The Lion Seeker
A brawny, brilliant debut novel about the epic struggles of an immigrant son in a darkening world.
Johannesburg, South Africa. The Great Depression. In this harsh new country, young Isaac Helger burns with fiery determination— to break out of the inner city, to buy his scarred mother the home she longs for, to find a way to realize her dream of reuniting a family torn apart. But there are terrible, unspoken secrets of the past that will haunt him as he makes his way through a society brutalized by racism, as he loses his heart to an unattainable girl from the city’s wealthiest heights and his every exit route from poverty dead-ends. When the threat of the Second World War insinuates itself with brutal force into Isaac’s reality, he will face the most important choice of his life . . . and will have to learn to live with the consequences.
In this extraordinarily powerful novel, Kenneth Bonert brings alive the world of South African Jewry in all its raw energy and ribald vernacular. Comedic, searing, lyrical and with a snap-perfect ear for dialogue, The Lion Seeker is a profoundly moral exploration of how wider social forces shape us and shatter us, echoing through history with lessons that are no less relevant today than in the crucible of its time.
WINNER 2015 – Jewish Book Council Choice Award
FINALIST 2015 – Jewish Book Council Sami Rohr Prize
WINNER 2014 – Canadian Jewish Book Award in Fiction, a category of the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards
WINNER 2013 – Edward Lewis Wallant Award
WINNER 2013 – National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Debut Fiction
FINALIST 2013 – Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction
“The Lion Seeker…adds to the unique diversity in Canadian literature…. Mazel tov, Kenneth Bonert, you have written a blockbuster of a book.”
—Jennifer Hunter, Toronto Star
“Bonert’s prose is sharp and masterful, clipping along at a breathless pace while still managing to wow us with imagery, clever turns of phrase and believable dialogue peppered with several languages.”
—Zoe Whittall, The Globe and Mail
“Strikingly assured debut…. The Lion Seeker is astonishingly mature, admirably incautious. It moves with the sleight-of-hand of the born artist, ramping up for naked tugs at the heart. It would make a terrific film. It’s visually and thematically sweeping, rich with diverse personalities, packed with tender waves and roiling crests of love, loss, hope, hatred.”
—Jim Bartley, National Post
“This powerful novel begins with a mystery that propels its characters through their difficult lives in prewar South Africa and haunts their actions until a dramatic and searing climax based on the Holocaust in Lithuania. The Lion Seeker is vivid and illuminating, astonishing in its range and toughness, and simultaneously an expression of love and regret for all that has been lost.”
—Antanas Sileika, author of Underground and Woman in Bronze and Director of the Humber School for Writers
“A remarkably assured debut, The Lion Seeker is a riveting, lyrical, and profound journey towards the intersection of private lives and public destinies. Kenneth Bonert has all the makings of a major novelist.”
—Charles Foran, author of Mordecai: The Life and Times
“The Lion Seeker is no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle-fight raw. A historical novel that feels desperately current; a Rosenburg and Juliet love story shorn of all sentiment; a stock-taking of human brutality and its flip side, our capacity to reach beyond our limitations and be better, all rendered in prose so expert, so fine honed that it belies the adjective ‘debut.’ It joins classics like J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart in the canon, and renders the South African experience universal. A first-round knock-out for Kenneth Bonert.”
—Richard Poplak, author of Ja No Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa
“The Lion Seeker is a powerful and thoroughly engrossing novel, grand in scope, richly imagined, full of dramatic incident, and crafted in a prose that is by turns rough-hewn and lyrical. To read it is to be reminded how great a great novel can be.”
—David Bezmozgis, author of The Free World and Natasha: And Other Stories