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Bernice Rubens was born in Cardiff in 1928, the second daughter of Eli Rubens, a Lithuanian Jew fleeing anti-semitism who established himself in the clothes business and Dorothy Cohen whose family had emigrated from Poland. She grew up in the large musical family in the vibrant Cardiff Jewish community. Music remained a passion throughout her life and sometimes she liked to describe herself as a failed musician. She was one of the most successful British novelists of the second half of the twentieth century and won the Booker prize in 1970 for The Elected Member. She read English at the University of Wales in Cardiff, before marrying Rudi Nassbauer, a wine merchant who also wrote poetry and fiction. Bernice Rubens had two daughters, taught English at a Birmingham grammar school from 1950 to 1955, before entering the film industry. Her documentaries were well received, one entitled Stress winning the American Blue Ribbon award in 1968. She began writing fiction based securely on the intricacies of her own Jewish family in her late twenties. She achieved early critical and commercial success with her first novel Set On Edge (1960) which allowed her to maintain a long career which would encompass 24 published novels. Her autobiography published in 2003 was her first work of non-fiction but she had often used incidents in her own life such the break up of her marriage in her work.Her second novel, Madame Sousatzka (1962), became a film starring Shirley MacLaine and directed by John Schlesinger; her seventh, I Sent A Letter To My Love (1975), was also filmed, with Simone Signoret. Rubens enjoyed the respected place she had achieved in the literary world. She was an honorary vice-president of International PEN and served as a Booker judge in 1986. She maintained close friendships with a chosen group of colleagues, including Beryl Bainbridge, Paul Bailey and Francis King. She was a compelling storyteller, weaving her novels from many strands: her own vivid experiences, her friends' and family's lives, centuries of Jewish tradition and history; above all, her remarkable and disturbing imagination. In everyday places - a suburban villa, an English public school, a home for the elderly - Rubens showed the horrors that can lie behind net curtains and cosiness, polite conversation or an unexplained wink. Though her novels possess many themes, she admitted that she really only wrote about one thing. Human relationships were the core material of her books, especially within a family. In later years her work moved to a larger historical canvas as she connected strongly with her Jewish heritage. She considered her strongest book to be Brothers, a sweeping historical novel that follows several generations of a Jewish family through a fight for survival that takes them from 19th-century Tsarist Russia to western Europe and Nazism, then back to modern Russia and its continued persecution of the Jews. It was the best she insisted: "because... what it is about matters". She died in London in 2004.
w w w . th 'Intensely dramatic... extraordinarily funny... an exceptionally original and disturbing achievement.' The Daily Telegraph 'Perfect mastered skill... compassion and humour modulate her often steely-eyed observation.' The Sunday Times