The 20th-annual Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival offers a smorgasbord of events that are of particular Jewish interest, including appearances by American authors Daniel Mendelsohn and Adam Gopnik, as well as Jewish and Arab-Israeli writers, and an entire session devoted to Jerusalem.
The multilingual festival takes place from April 20-29 at Hotel 10 in downtown Montreal, as well as other sites around town.
Mendelsohn is best known for his award-winning 2006 book, The Lost: The Search for Six of the Six Million, the story of his years-long quest to find out exactly what happened to his relatives who died in the Holocaust.
His latest book, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic, is an exploration of his relationship with his late father, told through the latter’s unlikely 2011 decision to enrol in Mendelsohn’s seminar at Bard College on Homer’s Odyssey, a tale of filial bond.
Mendelsohn is participating in both English and French sessions (his books are especially popular in France).
He will speak with Montreal novelist and academic Ariela Freedman (author of Arabic for Beginners) on April 29 at the McCord Museum about how he weaves his love of the classics into writing about his personal life.
Mendelsohn explores the same territory with journalist Marie-Andrée Lamontagne on April 26 at Librairie Gallimard in French.
Mendelsohn will also be a panellist in discussions about being an LGBTQ writer, recreating memory and portraying elderly people.
Gopnik, who’s been writing for The New Yorker since 1986, was raised in Montreal, received his undergraduate degree at McGill University, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2013, and maintains close ties to the city.
He will be the guest of Shawn Apel on CBC’s Radio Noon Live! on April 27 and participate in a French-language panel on modern-day France on April 28 at Hotel 10. Gopnik lived in Paris for several years and recounted his experience in the bestselling book, Paris to the Moon.
The Israeli writers include Ruby Namdar, who won the country’s 2014 Sapir Prize for The Ruined House, his debut novel, and Arab-Israeli Sayed Kashua, who writes in Hebrew. His latest book is Native: Dispatches From an Israeli-Palestinian Life, a collection of his columns in the newspaper Haaretz that offer insights into being Arab in the Jewish state.
Namdar is interviewed by local writer Joseph Rosen at the Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM) on April 28 about The Ruined House, which was recently published in English and was hailed as a “masterpiece” by the New York Times.
Set in the early 2000s, this complexly contrasted novel centres on an aging New York Jewish intellectual whose “happy, meticulously arranged world begins to unravel, disrupted by visions of an ancient religious ritual.”
Montreal novelist Claire Holden Rothman talks to Kashua on the same day at the MJM about his writing and his humour (he is also the creator of Arab Labor, a hit Israeli sitcom). Kashua is currently teaching at the University of Illinois.
Namdar and Kashua are among the writers taking part in The Gabriel Safdie Event: Jerusalem of the Mind, a panel discussion at Hotel 10 on April 29. Israeli-born Safdie (younger brother of architect Moshe Safdie) has, since his retirement from running the family business, been devoting himself to his love of the arts, literature and philanthropy.
Joining them to offer their reflections on the Jerusalem of the imagination are local writers Ariela Freedman, Leila Marshy and Chantal Ringuet, as well as Calgary’s Marcello Di Cintio, whose book, Walls: Travels Along the Barricades, won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.
Elsewhere, Montreal filmmaker John Curtin’s new documentary, Why the Jews?, an exploration of why the Jewish people have achieved so much despite facing so much persecution, is screened at Concordia University’s De Sève Cinema on April 28. Shelley Pomerance moderates a discussion afterward with Rabbi Reuben Poupko, psychologist and author Susan Pinker, and Curtin.
In conjunction with the festival, the Jewish Public Library presents two lectures by Israeli Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, whose second novel, Waking Lions, has been translated into 13 languages. On April 22, she speaks in Hebrew (and the next day in English) on how a younger generation from Israel’s “backyard,” the southern desert, are influencing the cultural scene in the country.
Her and Namdar’s participation are supported by the Israeli consulate.