TORONTO - Author Tamas Dobozy took home the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for "Siege 13" on Wednesday, dedicating it to his father, whose anecdotes of the brutal battle of Budapest during the Second World War inspired the short story collection.
"He lived through the siege and a lot of his stories of that time were really the initial motivation for me becoming interested in this," the Waterloo, Ont.-based writer said after accepting the award at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto.
"He's also the person that turned me on to good writing. I remember when I was 13 or 14, he was the first one who sort of took the comic book out of my hand and put 'The Story of San Michele' or Hemingway's novel into my hands and said 'Read this.'"
"Siege 13" (Thomas Allen Publishers) features 13 fictional tales linked by the bloody battle that took place from December 1944 to February 1945.
Dobozy, a father of four who teaches English and film at Wilfrid Laurier University, said he was surprised about the scale of the siege during his research.
"Even as little as three months ago, I was talking to a Hungarian translator who was interested in translating my work and I said to her, 'I'm really worried that maybe I puffed up the siege too much, I made it too fantastical,'" said the Nanaimo, B.C., native, who lived in Budapest for a couple of years in the '90s and travelled there frequently as a child.
"And she said to me, 'Well, my great-grandmother gave birth alone, on the streets of Budapest, during the siege.' When she said that to me, I said, 'OK, nothing I've written will ever be equal to what really went on at that time.'"
"Siege 13" beat out four other books, including "Carnival" by IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner Rawi Hage of Montreal, and Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist "Inside" by Montreal native Alix Ohlin.
This year's other Writers' Trust fiction finalists — who each receive $2,500 — included Edmonton-based Tim Bowling for "The Tinsmith" and Linda Spalding of Toronto for "The Purchase."
"'Siege 13' spans continents and decades, and in doing so illustrates once again that old maxim: the short story can be both as broad and as deep as a novel. These stories are never less than breathtaking," Writers' Trust jury members Lynn Coady, Esi Edugyan, and Drew Hayden Taylor — who read 116 books from 45 publishers — said in a statement.
"Siege 13" and "The Purchase" are also in contention for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, to be awarded next week.
Winning the Writers' Trust "really validates the fact that there's still an infinite play within the short story and that it is still a vital and really important literary form that needs to be paid attention to, more than anything," said Dobozy.
The 43-year-old's previous work, "Last Notes and Other Stories," won the Governor General's Literary Award for French translation in 2007 (although the original English version wasn't nominated).
Last year, he won The O. Henry Award for the short story "The Restoration of the Villa Where Tibor Kalman Once Lived."
Six prizes totalling $114,000 were given to Canadian writers at Wednesday's 12th annual Writers' Trust Awards, hosted by CBC Radio One's Shelagh Rogers.
Toronto's Nino Ricci, a two-time Governor General's fiction prize winner, took home the $25,000 Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award. The prize is for a body of work by a writer in mid-career.
Jean Little, a popular children's author from Guelph, Ont., received the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life.
Paul Yee, a Spalding, Sask., native who often writes about the Chinese-Canadian experience, won the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature.
And the $10,000 Writers' Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize went to Alex Pugsley for the short story "Crisis on Earth-X."
The Writers' Trust of Canada is a charitable organization founded by authors including Margaret Atwood and the late Pierre Berton.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the wrong spelling for 'Siege 13'