Scotiabank Giller Prize Spotlight: David Bergen

September 25, 2023

David Bergen's headshot headshot beside the cover of Away from the Dead

David Bergen’s novel Away from the Dead has been longlisted for the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

David Bergen is the author of 11 novels and two collections of short stories. His work has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Impac Dublin Literary Award, and a Pushcart Prize. Among his acclaimed works are The Time in Between, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize; The Matter with Morris, which was a finalist for the Giller Prize, the winner of the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Age of Hope, which was a bestseller and a finalist for CBC Canada Reads;  and his latest, Here the Dark, a collection of short stories and a novella, which was short-listed for the Giller Prize. In 2018 Bergen was given the Writer’s Trust Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life. Bergen lives in Winnipeg.

What inspired you to write Away from the Dead?

Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Isaac Babel, Viktor Shklovsky, to name a few writers I was inspired by for this novel. I had no desire to write a historical novel, and I still don’t quite see it in that manner. I also balked at writing about my family’s Mennonite past, and then found a way through this when I discovered my main character Julius Lehn, a Jewish book seller. The time of the Russian Revolution provided rich material. I had landed in a surfeit of stories, myriad possibilities, and to not drown myself or the reader, I remained single minded in my vision: stick to the small details, don’t get emotional, write about insignificant people.

What do you hope readers take away from Away from the Dead?

A really good read.

Where is your favourite place to write? What is your process?

I need quiet. No music. No other people. There is no need for beauty to surround me. Sometimes I will write in my car. I wrote most of this novel during the lockdown, in my wife’s office, when she was working from home.

Is there an activity you do to help inspire writing?

After each novel, I renovate a room in the house. It clears my mind, gives me focus, and the sound of an impact drill makes me utterly happy. Which leads to the next novel.

What’s a book you recommend others read and why?

Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy. Both stories and novellas that offer entry into the best writer one can read. Tolstoy confronts what is essential: love and death.

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