Professor weaves history and fiction
Nominated for Governor Generalís Awards
Words Worth Books in Waterloo hosted a reading for Canadian writer Tamas Dobozy on Tuesday, Oct. 23. His newest book, Siege 13, a collection of short stories revolving around the Siege of Budapest in World War II, is one of this year’s up-and-coming books. It details the experience and aftermath of a conflict that has left scars on the hearts of people generations after.
Siege 13 is nominated for the Governor General’s Awards and the Rogers Writers Trust Award, which are two of the biggest awards for recognizing Canadian literary talent. Dobozy is the only short story writer on both lists this year.
The stories span continents and decades, chronicling the tales of the people who suffered through the horrors of the siege and the trauma thereafter. His book is a powerful work of historical fiction, his inspiration for writing these stories coming from his own encounters with his family’s history.
“I was always interested — they were very reluctant to talk about it, so that was part of my curiosity…how could it have been so bad so that you would never talk about it?...That’s what made me really interested in researching it and finding out about it,” said Dobozy.
The Siege of Budapest is often touted as one of the bloodiest conflicts of World War II. In just one month and fourteen days, from Dec. 29, 1944 to Feb. 13, 1945, 38,000 people were killed and the city was reduced to ruins. Dobozy had relatives, including his father, who went through the siege; though they do not make an appearance in Siege 13, their stories do.
Siege 13 is playing a vital part in achieving new accomplishments in Canadian literature this year. As Canadians, we understand well the experiences of people coming from a foreign country. Multiculturalism and diversity are part of our national identity, and hence part of our literary canon. Dobozy’s work is an insight into the ever-evolving Canadian perspective.
“Well, I think it’s really about, in many ways, about the importance of collective empathy, of understanding that although people may be widely divergent, different beliefs, different attitudes, that that collective sense is critical for the survival of a culture or of a country,” he said.
He also added, “And on the other hand, [it’s also] the power of storytelling, to heal, and to make sense, and to provide some kind of value in a world where all other kinds of value might be totally absent.”
Dobozy’s choice to write short stories is unique in today’s literary environment, where the novel runs rampant. “I like the perfection of the form,” he explained. “I like tinkering with it and getting it exactly right within that little space that it provides, so I’m just a big fan of the short story.”
Dobozy is an associate professor in the department of English and film studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. As a professor, he had this to say about the importance of art in the context of his book.
“People use a lot of artistry in the book [form] of one kind or another to enable their survival,” said Dobozy. “They either tell stories or they create music or they paint pictures, or whatever, in order to provide for themselves a positive value, or an over and above value to their lives. I mean, the beauty of art is that it’s not necessary in a material sense, but it’s absolutely necessary in an existential sense.”
“And we forget that. I think we often forget that because we live in a society that’s so dominated by technical innovation and scientific progress and occupations that are directly linked to some sort of economical gain that we frequently forget how important art is…The arts need to be supported.”
He asserts that there is something more essential to the human makeup than money or scientific progress.
“There’s more to living than efficiency, than producing money… I wouldn’t want to live in a world that was purely about technical facility or economic increase. And I think that’s really what the arts are about, that the arts are about why we live, in the extras that we live for. … All those things that are sort of over and above material necessity.
“So I really do think that that is the importance of arts in our culture — that it tells us why we live, it gives us those extras that make life not just livable, but enjoyable, or worthwhile.”