By Bookmarked - Monday, February 4, 2013 - 0 Comments
Toronto author Modris Eksteins has won the ninth annual British Columbia National Award for Canadian nonfiction for his book Solar Dance, which examines 20th century Western culture and politics through the lens of artist Vincent Van Gogh. (Read senior writer Brian Bethune’s feature on Eksteins and the book here.)
The three other finalists, George Bowering, Robert R. Fowler and Candice Savage–who were chosen from a total of 143 authors nominated this year–will each take home $2,500.
Previous winners of the award, which celebrates “a genre that stimulates our national conversation and shares knowledge about the complex world in which we live,” include:
- Charlotte Gill for Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe (2012)
- John Vaillant for The Tiger (2011)
- Ian Brown for The Boy in the Moon (2010)
- Russell Wangersky for Burning Down the House (2009)
- Lorna Goodison for From Harvey River (2008)
- Noah Richler for This Is My Country, What’s Yours? (2007)
- Rebecca Godfrey for Under the Bridge (2006)
- Patrick Lane for There Is a Season (2005)
By Barbara Amiel - Friday, November 9, 2012 at 2:08 PM - 0 Comments
On Monday evening the winner of the richest book prize in Canada, the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for non-fiction, a cool $60,000, will be announced and I know the result. That’s the single advantage of being a judge. The disadvantages are legion—including the legion of authors and their friends, associates and publishers who will think your decision befits that of a donkey’s ass.
My first experience as a book judge was in 1988. A new prize for non-fiction had been established in Britain called the NCR Book Award. I can’t remember a thing now except that I was uncomfortable and sure I had damp patches under my arms sitting in the very prissy hotel room with the other judges, some of Britain’s Great and Good literary lions. We read dozens of books and met for tremendously civilized discussions over tea and buns which were nearly thrown across the table several times. I have never recuperated from having to deliver a synopsis of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time to a black-tie audience in London on awards night. You probably have not read A Brief History of Time or, if you did, have not lived to tell the tale. The first part was a rattling-good read and the second part left me in mud up to the top of my head. Still, I knew the NCR prize was a very good thing because non-fiction quite often gets a bit of a pass-over in the literary prize field and this prize was at the time the richest book award in the UK.
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
In a new book, historian Modris Eksteins writes our admiration for Van Gogh says more about us than him
Vincent Van Gogh, who sold but a single painting in his time, died penniless in 1890, by his own hand or—in a theory proposed by his latest biographers—by a combination of accident, sheer bad luck and mulish self-denial that seems more emblematic of his emotionally tumultuous life than suicide. A century later, after decades of ever-increasing popular adulation, Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million, the most any painting has ever fetched in the 20th century. It’s true neither fact says anything about Van Gogh as an artist or as a human being, but both speak volumes about us, according to the acclaimed Canadian cultural historian Modris Eksteins.
“We choose our heroes out of our deepest concerns,” Eksteins says during an interview about his new book, Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery, and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age. In it, Eksteins traces Van Gogh’s 20th-century arc from abject failure to “demonic saint and hero,” while ironically contrasting that transformation with the story of Otto Wacker, one of the artist’s most prolific forgers. Van Gogh, a lonely misfit in his own era, struggled against the dominant Victorian values of sublimation, duty and structure. But by the end of the Great War, Eksteins argues, the whole Western world had caught up with the painter in its rejection of the old order, now lying in ruins. Van Gogh was seen, as he is now, as someone who saw through veils of hypocrisy and lies into the essential truth of the human experience, a kind of icon of authenticity: “Van Gogh is ours, and we are Van Gogh,” concludes Eksteins.
Twenty-three years ago, Eksteins wrote the book on that seismic change in Western culture, finding its origins as much in the violent currents—emotional, spiritual and aesthetic—running beneath the surface of pre-war European society as in the actual violence of the war. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age took its title from Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet The Rite of Spring. Through its defiantly dissonant music, radically twisted dance steps and shocking storyline featuring human sacrifice, Diaghilev’s modernist classic famously provoked a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere.