France's top literary award goes to book on Spain's civil war

5th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

A former psychiatrist, Lydie Salvayre, on Wednesday won France's top literary prize, the Goncourt, for her book "Pas pleurer" ("Don't cry") in which she interweaves the voices of her mother and a French writer during the Spanish Civil War.

Salvayre, the daughter of exiled Spanish Republican parents, beat off competition from favourites Kamel Daoud, an Algerian first-time novelist, and French best-selling author David Foenkinos to win the prize.

Born in 1948, Salvayre grew up in the southwest French city of Toulouse after her parents fled the regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, learning French only when she went to school.

"I am very happy, I'm very moved," Salvayre said, with tears in her eyes, following the announcement, made in line with a 100-year-old tradition at Paris's Drouant restaurant.

The author of numerous works, many of Salvayre's books have been adapted for the stage and she has been translated into over 20 languages.

Her Goncourt-winning novel is dominated by both the figure of French writer Georges Bernanos and the voice of her own mother, Montse, telling the story of the uprising that started Spain's civil war in 1936.

The winner of the prize receives the nominal sum of 10 euros ($12) but can expect to see sales of around 400,000 in what is considered a literary jackpot for authors.

Sales of Pierre Lemaitre's 2013 winner "Au revoir la-haut" soared from 30,000 to 620,000, according to his publishers Albin Michel.

The prize is one of four important literary awards handed out in France this week starting with the Femina on Monday and the Medicis on Tuesday.

The lesser known Renaudot, also announced on Wednesday, went to Foenkinos for his book "Charlotte", a tribute to a young artist, Charlotte Salomon, killed at Auschwitz in 1943.

Thanks to his 2009 novel "La delicatesse" ("Delicacy"), which was made into a film starring Audrey Tautou, the 40-year-old writer is already one of France's best selling authors.

Supporters of the widely-tipped Daoud, however, were left disappointed.

Shortlisted for the Goncourt for Meursault, contre-enquete" (Meursault, counter-inquiry"), the Algerian journalist's novel revisited Albert Camus' famous work "L'Etranger".

In Camus' 1942 novel -- translated into English as "The Outsider" -- the main character Meursault shoots and kills a man known only as the "Arab" on a beach in colonial-era Algiers.

Returning to the story from the perspective of the victim's younger brother, Haroun, Daoud has his main character deliver a bar room monologue in which he rails against his family's treatment and how it marred his own life.

Daoud, 44, who works for a daily newspaper in the Algerian city of Oran, has said that his book has been misinterpreted by some as an attack on Camus' novel.

In fact, he says, it was intended as a homage to another of Camus' works "La Chute" ("The Fall"), in which a man reflects on his life in a series of monologues.

France's Patrick Modiano, a former Goncourt winner, won this year's Nobel Literature Prize.


© 2014 AFP

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