Jacobson, Dan (1929–2014) By Hall, Molly
Dan Jacobson was a South African novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and translator who spent most of his adult life and the more productive years of his career in England. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 7 March 1929 to parents who had immigrated from Latvia and Lithuania to South Africa to avoid the persecution of the Jews and the poverty. His maternal grandfather, Hershel, a rabbi, had refused to move for fear of losing his family’s religion and culture. Hershel would be an object of great interest to Jacobson in his later life, so much so that in the absence of any trace of his grandfather’s history, he would travel to Lithuania in search of his story and write Hershel’s Kingdom (1998) about the slaughter of the Jewish community there during the Second World War. Jacobson lived in a British-controlled former diamond mining area of South Africa from the age of four. There, he learned English at school, where he also learned of the cruelties of discrimination after an incident of peer bullying from which he never truly recovered. He writes about this incident in his autobiographical Time and Time Again: Autobiographies (1985), for which he won the J.R. Ackerly Prize for Autobiography. Despite not considering himself a practising Jew, he agreed to attend Hebrew school and go to synagogue at his father’s behest and in solidarity with his globally diasporic Jewish brothers amidst the rise of Nazism.