Mohamed Mbougar Sarr from Senegal wins the first French literary prize | Books

Senegalese novelist Mohamed Mbougar Sarr became the first writer from sub-Saharan Africa to receive the oldest and most prestigious French literary prize, the Prix Goncourt.

The award, announced Wednesday at the Drouant restaurant near the Opéra Garnier in Paris, was hailed as “symbolic” by the French literary establishment, 100 years after the award – awarded since 1867 – was first won by a black author.

According to the magazine L’Express, this prize crowns “the revelation of the literary year”, a “shining proof of the vitality and universality of the French language”. Le Monde declared that “Sarr’s novel” awe-inspiring ambition and breathtaking energy “” outweighed it. “

The move comes amid an increasingly bitter cultural war in France ahead of next year’s presidential elections, with far-right polemicist Eric Zemmour recently calling for a ban on “non-French” names. Such as Muhammad.

“I just feel enormous joy,” said Mbougar Sarr, 31, who is the youngest winner of Goncourt since 1976. The eldest of a family of seven boys, the son of a doctor, he grew up to 100 miles from Dakar. before settling in France to study literature.

His novel, The most secret memory of men (The most secret memory of men), tells the story of a young Senegalese writer living in Paris who stumbles upon a novel published in 1938 by an African fiction author named TC Elimane, nicknamed “the black Rimbaud” by an ecstatic Parisian media.

The story, described as a reflection on the links between fiction and reality, echoes the lived experience of the Malian writer Yambo Ouologuem, who in 1968 became the first African winner of another famous French literary prize, the Prize Renaudot, but was later accused of plagiarism, fled France and disappeared from public life.

“With this young author, we returned to the fundamentals of Goncourt,” said Philippe Claudel, member of the jury. “At thirty-one, he has a few books in front of him. Hopefully this price will not dampen his desire to write them.

The jury of seven men and three women “made a decision on the first vote – there was no need for a second round,” said another member of the jury, Paule Constant. “This book is written in a flamboyant style. It is a hymn to literature.

This year’s award was marred by a judging scandal when it emerged that the shortlist included a book by the boyfriend of one of the judges, who had written a scathing review of one of the other nominees at the price.

The Prix Goncourt is only worth € 10 but guarantees notoriety and massive sales of books. The previous winners, including Marcel Proust, André Malraux, Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras, have seen novels sell 400,000 copies. Last year’s winner, Hervé Le Tellier, sold over a million.

The first black winner of the Prix Goncourt, in 1921, was René Maran, whose early childhood took place in Martinique.

The rival of the Renaudot Prize, widely regarded as the second place of Goncourt, returned this year to the prolific French-speaking Belgian novelist Amélie Nothomb for First sang (First Blood), dedicated to his father who died last year.

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