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18 November 2006

After Foreigners Take Four Top Book Awards

Is French Literature Burning? - New York Times: Jonathan Littell, an American writer whose novel “The Kindly Ones” won two major French literary prizes." (See photo at linked target page.)

Published: November 18, 2006
PARIS, Nov. 17

— French authors can hardly be faulted for not being productive: over the past two months, they have published no fewer than 475 new novels. Yet despite all this creative energy, probably the most striking feature of this fall’s literary season is that of six coveted book prizes, four went to novels written in French by non-French authors.

The New York-born writer Jonathan Littell took both the Goncourt and the Académie Française prizes for “Les Bienveillantes,” or “The Kindly Ones,” which has already sold some 280,000 copies. The Femina prize went to “Lignes de Fille,” or “Fault Lines,” by the Canadian-born novelist Nancy Huston, while “Mémoires du Porc-épic,” or “Memoirs of a Porcupine,” won the Renaudot prize for the French-Congolese author Alain Mabanckou.

French readers, critics and literary-prize jurors are now paying special heed to these so-called Francophone foreign writers. And one conclusion is that outside voices — and there are many more than this year’s prize-winners — are offering something absent in homegrown French fiction.

“It is not a coincidence,” said Mr. Semprun, a Spanish-born Francophone novelist who is also a member of the Goncourt jury. “These writers are more open to the world, more universal, less navel-gazing than some French writers.”

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