The West’s love-hate relationship with Islam and the Arab world dominates the race for France’s high literary award, the Goncourt, with the winner chosen Tuesday over a lunch at a Paris restaurant that may usually flip heated.
The Algerian author Boualem Sansal (pictured above), lengthy the odds-on favorite for the prize — the oldest and most prestigious within the French talking world — did not make the highest 4 final week together with his dystopian imaginative and prescient of a future Islamic caliphate, “2084”, which many critics have in comparison with George Orwell’s “1984”.
Yet the 4 novels nonetheless in rivalry all deal in a technique or one other with the Middle East or the lengthy twilight of France’s colonial entanglement within the area.
Sansal had the sturdy backing of Michel Houellebecq, France’s most well-known literary provocateur, himself a Goncourt winner in 2010, who praised the guide’s critique of “true Islamic totalitarianism”.
His personal newest work, the bestselling “Submission”, controversially imagines France electing an Islamic authorities in 2022, with the author later denying it was a satire and admitting he was Islamophobic. “Yes, but the word phobia means fear rather than hatred,” he instructed The Guardian newspaper.
His writer instructed AFP Monday that the guide has thus far bought 650,000 copies in French, an virtually extraordinary quantity for a literary novel.
The 4 books left on the Goncourt shortlist are much less confrontational than Sansal’s biting portrait of a omnipotent theocratic state consistently searching for inner and exterior enemies.
Nevertheless the brand new favorite, “Les Preponderants” (roughly translated as “The Principals”), by veteran Franco-Tunisian creator Hedi Kaddour isn’t with out its personal exhausting edge.
Set within the Tunisia of the Nineteen Twenties as resentment at French rule grows, it was joint winner final week of the Academie Francaise prize given by the lofty guardians of the French language generally known as the “immortals”, who rule over grammar and which new phrases enter their dictionary.
The proven fact that the Goncourt jury selected to disclose its last 4 novels in Tunis, the place Kaddour, 70, was born, didn’t go unnoticed.
Jury president Bernard Pivot mentioned the extremely symbolic announcement within the metropolis’s Bardo Museum, the place jihadist gunmen killed 21 vacationers and a policeman in an assault final March, was to indicate help for the nation’s fledgling democracy within the very place “where the most cruel and stupid tyranny had shown its contempt for freedom”.
Tobie Nathan’s “Ce pays qui te ressemble” (“This country that you resemble”) can be mentioned to have its followers on the jury, with its tales of the Jewish Cairo of his childhood and the misplaced idyll of the town’s cosmopolitan tolerance.
A scholar of each Arabic and Persian, Mathias Enard takes on related territory with “Boussole” (“Compass”), weaving a poetic eulogy to the lengthy historical past of cultural exchanges between East and West.
The guide by the one lady on the shortlist, Nathalie Azoulai, additionally has a Middle Eastern twist, riffing off the character of Berenice, the Roman-era queen of Palestine from Racine’s romantic tragedy in “Titus n’aimait pas Berenice” (“Titus does not love Berenice”).
Only six ladies writers have ever gained the prize in its 112-year historical past, together with Lydie Salvayre final yr for “Pas pleurer” (“Don’t cry”), which pipped Algerian Kamel Daoud’s much-admired Arab tackle Albert Camus’ traditional “L’Etranger” (“The Outsider”).
“It’s very open. We choose with our heart and our choice is not necessarily everyone’s choice,” mentioned author Philippe Claudel, one of many 10-strong jury.
In conserving with custom, the ultimate choice will likely be made on the belle epoque Drouant restaurant in central Paris after the jury have chewed the fats over a lunch of lamb stew with olives and sundried tomatoes.