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Salman Rushdie wins prestigious German peace prize

June 19, 2023

The celebrated British-American author of "Midnight's Children" and "The Satanic Verses" has been recognized with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

Salman Rushdie wearing glasses with one side shaded.
After an attack in August 2022, Rushdie lost sight in one eyeImage: Timothy A. Clary/AFP

The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for 2023 has been awarded to British-American author Salman Rushdie, "for his indomitable spirit, for his affirmation of life and for enriching our world with his love of storytelling," the award's Board of Trustees said in a statement on Monday in Frankfurt am Main.

"From the moment his masterpiece 'Midnight's Children' was published in 1981, Salman Rushdie has awed us with his interpretations of migration and global politics. In his novels and nonfiction, he melds narrative foresight with unfailing literary innovation, humor and wisdom. His work chronicles the force used by oppressive regimes to destroy entire societies while also celebrating the indestructible spirit of resistance displayed by individual human beings," the prize's board added.

Survivor of several assassination attempts

Born on June 19, 1947, in Bombay (now Mumbai), Ahmed Salman Rushdie's name is best known worldwide for his 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses," which caused widespread uproar in the Muslim world for its story inspired by the life of Islamic Prophet Muhammad. It also prompted Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to declare a fatwa against the author.

The sentence led to several failed assassination attempts on the author, including an attack in August 2022, shortly before the publication of Rushdie's most recent novel, "Victory City."

The 76-year-old writer was severely injured in the stabbing. He is still wrestling with the attack's physical and psychological consequences, including the loss of sight in one eye.

'Words are the winner'

Rushdie served as the president of the PEN American Center from 2004 to 2006, and then as chairman of the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival for 10 years.

The author recently announced that he is planning to write a book on the 2022 stabbing. "It's not the easiest book in the world to write, but it's something I need to get past in order to do anything else," he said at the Hay Festival, a literary event in the UK, earlier this month. "That's the thing that writers can do: They can outlast the thing that opposes them."

Rushdie has repeatedly emphasized the power of storytelling in his works, which have been translated into over 40 languages. "Victory City," which deals with political intrigue and religious bigotry through the tale of the rise and fall of a feminist utopia, ends with the sentence: "Words are the winner."

A prestigious list of recipients

The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, endowed with €25,000 ($27,300), will be handed out in a ceremony in October during the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The prize, created in 1950, recognizes a personality committed to serving international understanding between nations and cultures through their work.

"I am deeply honored by, and grateful for this very important award. I can only thank the jury for its generosity. I know how significant this prize is, and I'm a little overawed by the list of previous recipients, to whom my name will now be added. I'm truly delighted," said Rushdie in a statement published on the website of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

Last year, the award went to Ukrainian author Serhiy Zhadan. Previous recipients include, among others, Margaret Atwood, Orhan Pamuk, Susan Sontag, Amos Oz, Vaclav Havel .

Edited by: Brenda Haas

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture