Prix Jan Michalski 2013

Montricher, 13th November 2013 – the Jury awarded the 2013 Jan Michalski Literary Prize to the Iranian writer Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, for the powerful and taboo-breaking novel The Colonel. The story is narrated by an old soldier tormented by the loss of three of his children and by the death of his adulterous wife by his own hand.

He is unable to protect his two remaining children: his son, Amir, haunted by the atrocities of the regime of which he is by turn a victim and a witness, and a daughter, Parveneh, married to a cruel opportunistic man. Dark and atmospheric, told through the perspective of the Colonel’s memories, this novel spans Iranian history from the Second World War and shows the desperate lives led by many Iranians oppressed by successive regimes. Dowlatabadi’s work elevates rural speech, drawing on the rich, lyrical tradition of Persian poetry.

Born in 1940 in Sabzevar in the north-east of Iran, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi now lives in Teheran where he teaches Persian literature. He is the most prominent contemporary Iranian writer, author of many short stories, novels and plays. Missing Soluch and The Colonel are both published in English in the US by Melville House and in the UK by Haus Publishing. The Colonel is banned in Iran and has never been published in Persian.

Vera Michalski, the President of the Jury, awarded Mahmoud Dowlatabadi a prize of 50,000 Swiss francs as well as a work of art created by Philippe Cogny, especially for the price.

Two other exceptional works were chosen by the jury for the final shortlist:

L’Aigle et le Dragon – Demesure européenne et mondialisation au XVe siècle, by Serge Gruzinski, a French historian and essayist. Illuminating and original, this book deals with cultural exchanges in Latin America and the revolution in knowledge.

The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg, a Swedish novelist. Chilling and captivating, this documenary novel reconstructs life in the Jewish ghetto in Lodz in Poland during the Second World War with great detail, skill and empathy.

The Jan Michalski Literary Prize is an annual prize awarded for the fourth consecutive year. Previous winners were: in 2012 Julia Lovell for her historical work, The Opium War, in 2011, Gyorgy Dragoman for The White King and, in 2010, Aleksandar Hemon for The Lazarus Man.

The prize is multicultural and intended to contribute to a wide recognition of the writers. The jury, international and independent, includes Vera Michalski-Hoffmann, President of the Jury and the Foundation, and publisher; ; Yannick Haenel, French writer and essayist, Isabel Hilton, British journalist, reporter, writer and editor of; Marek Bienczyk, Polish novelist, essayist and writer; Georges Nivat, French Honorary Professor at the University of Geneva and a specialist of the Slavic world; Ilija Trojanow, Austrian editor and novelist; and Tarun Tejpal, Indian writer, publisher and journalist.

The prize is awarded by the Jan Michalski Foundation, based in Montricher Switzerland. It is open to authors of both fiction and non-fiction, from all over the world; each member of the jury nominates two works published within the last five years. The works are translated, if necessary, into a language accessible to each member of the jury. Books need to be published to be nominated and presented by the members of the Jury.