Thursday, May 8, 2008


Omega Minor won the 2008 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Here is the statement that I wrote for the occasion.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When I started writing Omega Minor, in the nineteen nineties, my intent was to write historical fiction. A story about the rise of fascism, a story about the horrors of war, a story about genocide. It is all over, I thought. Long past. Historical fiction.

Of the cardinal mistakes the writer can make, this one is unforgivable: To assume that there is a wall between the world he creates and the world he lives in.
I was translating the novel when the news of Abu Ghraib broke. This was the paragraph I was translating: “What if the terrorist networks and the political reality overlap? What if the violence of the new state is the same as the violence of the vanquished Reich? What if those who liberated the camps fill them up again with ideological adversaries?” It is still possible to shrug one’s shoulders at the news of Abu Ghraib or Blackwater. Bad apples.

But the signs of something bigger are unmistakable. The concentration of all power within the executive branch, the suspension of habeas corpus, the de facto censorship and bullying of the media, the secrecy, the warrantless spying, the trivialization and outsourcing of torture. All is now permitted, we are told, for we are Good, and we fight Evil, and by the very nature of our Goodness, all we do, no matter what it is, is justified, for it is done for Goodness’s sake. Invading a country that never posed a threat, killing at least 83,336 of its civilians , detaining 25,000 of them , building cages on faraway shores for prisoners who, it seems, will never get justice but -- at most -- a verdict. It’s all Good.

It is not.
For instance:
My country has now all but legalized torture, including mock executions, beatings, electrical shocks, forced nakedness, sexual humiliation, the infliction of hypothermia and heat injuries, and waterboarding. This is not the work of a few individuals, a few bad apples. Or if it is, their names are Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet and Ashcroft .
This is the twenty-first century. Torture should be as unthinkable as slavery.
In my country, it is not.

In the light of all this, and to avoid supporting the regime with more tax dollars than I already owe them, I have asked the Arts Council England to donate the money associated with the Prize, all 10,000 pounds of it, to the American Civil Liberties Union. Withholding the tax portion of those 10,000 pounds from the US Treasury will shorten the war by a mere eye-blink – its cost is currently 3,810 dollar per second -- but the ACLU can use that money to great effect in their legal battles against torture, detainee abuse, and the silence surrounding it.
We are not immune to history. But neither is history immune to us.
Power is not the only truth that matters.
Be diligent, my friends. Do the right thing.
And may we all fare well.

--Paul Verhaeghen, London, May 8, 2008--


Davon IV said...

I don't believe in heroes, maar naar jou kijk ik op.
Sterk, en sterkte.

tanya said...

Congratulations yet again! Although I'm not sure if you'll be able to top the praise from A.S. Byatt!!

Jef said...

Congratulations, I still think it's a great book! Will it be republished in Belgium?

Greetings, Jef

Paul Verhaeghen said...

The second printing of the AmeroEnglish version is just out, en de 6de druk van de Nederlandstalige versie (met vers omslag) zou NU in the winkels moeten liggen...

Eric Forbes said...

Heartiest congratulations on winning the 2008 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, Paul!