Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is proud to intro­duce read­ers to the five emerg­ing fic­tion authors named as final­ists for the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture. Today, we invite you to learn more about Paul Gold­berg and his book, The Yid, a nov­el about the hijinks of a troupe of Russ­ian Jews plot­ting to assas­si­nate Stal­in in Feb­ru­ary, 1953.

A warm con­grat­u­la­tions to Paul and the oth­er four final­ists: Idra Novey, Adam Ehrlich Sachs, Rebec­ca Schiff, and Daniel Tor­day. Join Jew­ish Book Coun­cil on May 3, 2017 at The Jew­ish Muse­um for a dis­cus­sion with the authors and announce­ment of the recip­i­ent of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture! Reg­is­ter for free tick­ets here »

What are some of the most chal­leng­ing things about writ­ing fiction?

I have a full-time job- as a reporter. It’s heavy-duty inves­tiga­tive report­ing. Plus, I run and write for The Can­cer. The most chal­leng­ing aspect for writ­ing fic­tion is clear­ing the brain space to sit down and do it. Please don’t mis­take this for whin­ing: hav­ing to fight to find the time and space to write, gen­er­ates a sense of urgency. You can’t fake that — it has to be real.

What or who has been your inspi­ra­tion for writ­ing fiction?

I learned as a kid in Moscow in the 1960s that books have pow­er, and writ­ers who are will­ing to tell the truth run the risk of get­ting arrest­ed. I remem­ber Moscow being abuzz about pub­li­ca­tion of Bul­gakov’s The Mas­ter and Mar­gari­ta, the arrests and tri­al of Daniel’ and Sinyavs­ki, the tri­al of Iosif Brod­s­ki, and, of course, Solzhen­it­syn’s bat­tles with the author­i­ties. Fic­tion allows you to tell the truth — and that’s the ulti­mate privilege.

Who is your intend­ed audience?

I try not to think about that. My job is to tell the story.

Are you work­ing on any­thing new right now?

I have just turned in my next nov­el, The Chateau. It’s sched­uled for pub­li­ca­tion in Feb­ru­ary 2018. The Chateau is set in South Flori­da. It’s about a build­ing full of Trump-sup­port­ing for­mer Sovi­et Jews. Would any­one be sur­prised to learn that the Board of Direc­tors of the Chateau is full of crooks?

What are you read­ing now?

Every­thing Brecht. I am going through every play. This is a great time for Brecht.

Top 5 favorite books

The Mas­ter and Mar­gari­ta by Mikhail Bulgokov

Good Sol­dier Sve­jk by Jaroslav Hasek

The Adven­tures of Huck­le­ber­ry Finn by Mark Twain

Evge­ny One­gin by Alexan­der Pushkin

The Catch­er in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I was a child in Moscow. My father is a jour­nal­ist and a poet, so since the day I was born I knew that it’s pos­si­ble to write and knew many peo­ple who did. Jour­nal­ism is great — my job is a priv­i­lege — but a nov­el­ist can drill deep­er into the truth and its inverse.

What is the moun­tain­top for you — how do you define success?

I am hap­py where I am.

How do you write — what is your pri­vate modus operan­di? What tal­is­mans, rit­u­als, props do you use to assist you?

I love run­ning away to Ver­mont for a month in the sum­mer and a month in the win­ter. I end up telecom­mut­ing, so I am work­ing full time in my day job. I am much more pro­duc­tive in Ver­mont. In the sum­mer, it has some­thing to do with pick­ing mush­rooms — a great Russ­ian pas­time. And I am a fiend on my bicy­cles. In the win­ter, it’s about cross-coun­try ski­ing, being alone in the woods, or watch­ing my dogs run ahead. It’s a hap­py place, like Rus­sia with moun­tains and with­out klep­toc­ra­cy. I fin­ished three of my most recent books in Vermont.

What do you want read­ers to get out of your book?

As a nov­el­ist, I write about the intel­li­gentsia and fas­cism, and how the two clash. I treat fas­cism as a polar­i­ty rather than an iso­lat­ed his­tor­i­cal event. It’s been with us for cen­turies, and it has not gone away. The oth­er part of it is my obses­sion with peo­ple who have the nobil­i­ty of the spir­it to stand up for the truth. This is my material.

Paul Gold­berg first heard a Moscow ver­sion of the myth about Jews using blood for reli­gious rit­u­als when he was ten, in 1969. By the time he emi­grat­ed to the US in 1973, he had col­lect­ed the Moscow sto­ries that under­pin The Yid. As a reporter, Gold­berg has writ­ten two books about the Sovi­et human rights move­ment, and has co-authored (with Otis Braw­ley) the book How We Do Harm, an expose of the U.S. health­care sys­tem. He is the edi­tor and pub­lish­er of The Can­cer Let­ter, a pub­li­ca­tion focused on the busi­ness and pol­i­tics of can­cer. He lives in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.