BRAM Presser's grandfather, Dr Jan Randa, was a well-known figure in the Melbourne Jewish community as a teacher of Hebrew. But it was his early life in Czechoslovakia before World War II that inspired his grandson.
Crumbs, a story Presser has written based on his grandfather's life in a shtetl, the impending horrors of the Holocaust and the fate of the village's various inhabitants, has won this year's Age short story award, worth $3000.
Second prize, worth $2000, went to Meatloaf in Manhattan by Professor Robert Power, principal for harm reduction at the Burnet Institute, whose first novel will be published in March, and the $1000 third prizewinner was Stephen McGrath for The Yellow Chair. (McGrath won the competition in 2006.) There were about 850 entries.
Presser, who was the frontman with the Jewish punk band Yidcore, is a lawyer and blogs enthusiastically about books, said his grandfather, a rabbi's son, had left his village in the Carpathian Mountains in order to further his education in Prague. ''Shtetl life was not for him,'' Presser said. ''I wanted to tell his story.''
One of the judges, novelist Anson Cameron, said the story had the gravitas and poise of a folk tale. ''It reads deep, in the basso profundo of a sage … the fates of its characters are prefigured in ghastly matter-of-fact detail. Each villager, shown at their day-to-day tasks, is marked for death in the Holocaust, or will be an enabler of misery and murder.''
And another judge, writer and critic Catherine Ford, said Crumbs stood out with its courage and tough eye.
The judges were Anson Cameron, Catherine Ford and Jason Steger.