Former foreign correspondent Graeme Smith has won Canada's richest award for non-fiction writing for The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, a graphic, thought-provoking account of his time covering the bloody, violent conflict.
Smith was unveiled as the 2013 winner of the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction Monday night during a reception at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
In addition to the $60,000 cash prize, Smith received a sculpture by crystal artist Mark Raynes Roberts.
The five-member jury hailed the book as a "painfully detailed, eyebrow-raising account of what [Smith] saw during his six years of reporting on that effort for the Globe and Mail: a tragic mix of cultural ignorance, mis-communication, greed, brutality and political naiveté that no amount of individual courage and dedication could ultimately overcome."
The book is a "graphic but determinedly even-handed memoir that does much to counter the reams of official spin this topic has endured over the years," the judges added.
Jurors included writers Hal Niedzviecki, Candace Savage and Andreas Schroeder along with CBC journalist Evan Solomon and War Child Canada founder Samantha Nutt.
Smith covered the Afghan war from 2005 to 2009 for the Globe and Mail and has also served as a foreign correspondent for the paper based in Istanbul, Delhi and Moscow.
"I want you to emerge from the book feeling a bit uneasy, perhaps a little tainted, unable to shake off the lingering images of war. You need to read about the days when I got the charred flesh of suicide bombers stuck in the treads of my shoes. You need to hear about the night when Canadian soldiers used human bodies as bait for insurgents (which inspired the book's title)," he told CBC News recently.
"It's all too easy for the international community to switch off, moving along to the next crisis without reflecting back on this awful war — and most tragically, abandoning the Afghan people to deal with a mess in the south."
Currently based in Kabul as a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, Smith has won multiple journalism honours, including National Newspaper Awards, the Michener Award for public service and an Emmy for the online series Talking to the Taliban.
The remaining finalists, who each receive $5,000, are:
- Thomas King for The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America
- J.B. MacKinnon for The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be
- Andrew Steinmetz for This Great Escape: The Case of Michael Paryla
- Priscila Uppal for Projection: Encounters with my Runaway Mother
The nominees will appear at an event in London, Ont., on Tuesday and at a panel at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre (part of the International Festival of Authors) on Friday.
The prize is administered by The Writers' Trust of Canada, which hands out its other literary awards at a ceremony in Toronto on Nov. 20.