This year, India joined the international family of 30 countries that make up the Goncourt Choice

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr won the Goncourt Choice of India award, which was held here for the first time

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr won the Goncourt Choice of India award, which was held here for the first time

The Goncourt Prize, the most prestigious French literary prize awarded since 1903, has an international avatar, the Goncourt Choice, which takes the award to countries around the world. Founded 20 years ago, the Goncourt Choice involves francophone juries (native students of a given country learning French) selecting the best book of fiction from among four shortlisted titles included in that year’s Goncourt Prize. This year, India joined the international family of 30 countries that make up the Goncourt Choice, allowing select Indian students studying French language and literature to read and judge “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”.

Forty-seven students from across the country came together to review four contenders for the prize – Le Voyage dans l’Est by Christine Angot (a novel on incest as seen from multiple perspectives, of a child, a teenager and a young woman); Milwaukee Blues by Louis-Philippe Dalembert (a novel reportedly inspired by the death of George Floyd in May 2020); Child of Salaud by Sorj Chalandon (who uses the trial of Nazi criminal Klaus Barbie in the summer of May 1987 to explore a filial theme); and The Plus Secret Memory of Men by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr (a coming-of-age novel, which eventually won the Goncourt Choice of India). The winner was announced by Philippe Claudel, Secretary General of the Académie Goncourt, on April 5 in New Delhi at the Residence of France in India.

Rich traditions

Speaking about the award, Emmanuel Lenain, French Ambassador to India, says, “More than 600,000 students in India learn French as a second language in schools and colleges. So you see why we thought of offering them this novel way of discovering contemporary French literature. France and India are both nations with long and rich traditions of literature and a thriving contemporary literary scene. Sharing more about each other’s literature could bring French and Indians closer together and foster greater mutual understanding. ”

In the last two years, the Academy Goncourt has created a literary contest where the student-jury members write a critique of their Goncourt Choice novel and the best is selected. The Indian students involved this year will write a critical essay of 3,000 words before the end of June 2022. Four winners from four countries, including India, will go to Paris in November to attend the Goncourt Prize ceremony.

Unique and universal

The jury consisted of students from across the network of Alliance Française institutes, as well as from Delhi University, Rajasthan University, University of Mumbai, Savitribai Phule University Pune, University of Goa, Pondicherry University, English and Foreign Languages ​​University of Hyderabad, Madurai Kamaraj University, and Bengaluru City University. They read and discussed the novels over two months. Pallavi Babar, one of the jury members from Savitribai Phule University, says, “The process of reading the books, examining the content, was enriching. The themes were unique but at the same time universal, highlighting topics like war and racism. We voted for Mohamed Mbougar Sarr because his book tackles the essence of every literary text, asking fundamental questions like ‘What is writing?’ or ‘What is literature?’ We felt that his book will be an inspiration for all lovers of French language in India. ”

The Plus Secret Memory of Men is a gripping investigation into the life of a mysterious author. It is about choosing between living and writing, about the desire to go beyond the confrontation between Africa and the West. Sarr, born in Senegal in 1990 and author of three novels till date, is one of the most inventive and admired writers in the international literary scene. He won the 2021 Goncourt Prize. Commenting on the win in India, Sarr says, “It’s wonderful news! I hope to come and meet the jury members and the French-speaking Indian students. ”

The Goncourt Choice of India will ensure the publication of The Plus Secret Memory of Men in three Indian languages, supported by the Institute of France in India’s PAP Tagore (Publication Assistance Program). This initiative not only enables literary and cultural exchange but also encourages Indian publishers to expand their catalog of translated literature.

The independent writer is Delhi-based.

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