Grigory Kanovich, a prominent modern Jewish writer from Lithuania, has turned 90 this month. Having moved to Israel several decades ago, Kanovich has not been in his native country in almost a decade, but says he has received many birthday greetings from his Lithuanian readers and state leaders.
Born in 1929, in the Lithuanian town of Jonava, Kanovich – or Grigorijus Kanovičius – has written over ten novels that make up a saga about Eastern European Jewry from the nineteenth century until today.
Kanovich and his family survived the Holocaust by fleeing through Latvia to Russia, where the family spent the rest of the war. He returned to Lithuania after the war and settled in Vilnius, where he studied at Vilnius University.
Kanovich's books have been translated into 12 languages and published in over 1.5 million copies.
His last novel, ‘Shtetl Love Song’, was published eight years ago, when he was 82. He then said it would be his last – and has so far kept his word.
“No, I am not tempted [to write again],“ Kanovich tells LRT TV. “Not only because I'm weak, but also, as Márquez said, I don't want to repeat myself or write worse than I used to.”
Kanovich is happy that his books continue to be translated and reach new audiences. “Now, two books came out in England, ‘The Devil’s Spell’ and ‘Shtetl Love Song’,” he says.
Although Kanovich celebrates his birthday on June 18, he says he was actually born on June 9. His mother was frail and her first child died. So when Grigory was born, they were kept in hospital for over a week.
“I was born in a Jewish hospital on June 9, but they let us out to Jonava on June 18, so the rabbi wrote down in his book that I was born on the 18th,” he says. “So I have the fortune to celebrate both days.”
Kanovich says he will not visit Lithuania due to bad health. He couldn't come collect his National Prize for Culture and Arts four years ago either.
However, he feels he has not been forgotten in his home country. The Lithuanian president and other state leaders have congratulated Kanovich for his 90th birthday.
“I would wish for myself that I am not forgotten, that people talk to me and that I can respond intelligently,” Kanovich tells LRT TV.