Spanish writer Antonio Munoz Molina told a small group of journalists that the Jerusalem Prize is “good enough for me.” The award was conferred on Molina Sunday evening at the opening of the 26th Jerusalem International Book Fair at the International Convention Center.
Molina commented earlier in the day, at a meeting in Mishkenot Sha’ananim conference center, that the prestige of many prizes depends on who has received it previously. Five of the authors who received the Jerusalem Prize were subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
“Seeing yourself in such a lineup, given the self-doubts you have, you think, ‘Do I really deserve this?’ I’m happy to win this award,” he said, with an easy, self-deprecating smile that emerges frequently in conversation. “As a writer, you live in permanent self-doubt, you’re on permanent trial.”
Molina had received “very harsh” messages and letters “full of clichés” from pro-Palestinian activists to boycott Israel and refuse the award, but commented that he didn’t believe accepting the award made him an “accomplice” to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
“I have strong respect for Israelis who are critical of their own country,” he said, commenting that the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers,” about six former heads of the Shin Bet discussing sensitive issues of national security, would probably not be possible in the US or Spain. “There is a daring, complex and fierce level of public debate here that appeals to me.”
Molina, an atheist who wrote about the Holocaust in his book “Sepharad,” said that what resonates for him are themes of exile and striving to belong, mirrored in his own work and personal history. Raised in a small town in Andalusia, Spain, the 57-year-old author was born into a Catholic working-class family during the Franco dictatorship. He witnessed the development of democracy following Franco’s death in 1975, honing his “literary skills and equipment” during that time, which was his own teenaged “existential rebellion,” he told reporters.
Coming from a working class, peasant background — which he left to attend college, the first in his family to do so — he came from “a backwards world.” In Madrid, where he studied, he felt like “a bit of an outsider, not exactly like the people around me,” he said.
Even now, as a Spaniard commuting between Europe and New York, where he lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, he enjoys being “not quite visible” to those around him. “If you’re well-known, you’re at the risk of becoming your own character,” he said. “When you’re alone, as a writer, you have to be unknown, putting it all on the paper.”
The Spanish writer has three books translated into English: “Sepharad,” ”In Her Absence” and “A Manuscript of Ashes.” His latest novel, “Noche de los Tiempos,” is currently being translated into English.