Long-lost novel wins top French literary prize

8th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 8 (AFP) - A lost wartime novel by a once-famous Jewish author who was murdered in the holocaust was given one of France's top literary prizes Monday - the first time the Renaudot has been awarded posthumously.

PARIS, Nov 8 (AFP) - A lost wartime novel by a once-famous Jewish author who was murdered in the holocaust was given one of France's top literary prizes Monday - the first time the Renaudot has been awarded posthumously.

"Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky has been hailed as the literary sensation of the year in France, not least because of the extraordinary story that finally led to its publication, and was snapped up by foreign buyers at last month's Frankfurt book fair.

The high-point of France's literary season, Monday also saw the country's best-known prize the Goncourt go to 32 year-old Laurent Gaude for "Le soleil des Scorta" - The sun of the Scortas - an epic tale of a family in southern Italy.

Inaugurated in 1903, the Goncourt prize is awarded by a ten-member committee known as the Academie Goncourt which makes its announcement in the celebrated Paris restaurant Chez Drouant.

The Renaudot is announced at the same place by a panel of literary critics. The winner of the Goncourt receives a cheque for EUR 10 (USD 13) and the winner of the Renaudot nothing at all, but the awards can provide a huge boost to sales.

Members of the Renaudot jury admitted they had to bend the rules to give the prize to Nemirovsky, who died in Auschwitz in August 1942.

"Prizes are meant to promote writers. We're not there to compensate the injustices done to people who are dead. Next year why not honour Alexandre Dumas?" said chairman Andre Brincourt, who was outvoted by the rest of the committee.

"Suite Francaise" was written in 1942 as Nemirovsky - who became an established author in the 1930s - waited in rural France for what she knew was her imminent arrest and deportation. It is a powerful account of the effect on ordinary people of the French military collapse of June 1940, the panicked flight from Paris and the arrival of the German army.

The novel has even been described as a French equivalent of Anne Frank's diary because of the rare authenticity with which it treats one of the most painful episodes in the country's modern history.

"It could become one of the key books of France under the occupation. From the literary as well as historic point of view, it is big news - and a masterpiece," said Olivier Le Naire, literary editor of L'Express magazine.

One of Nemirovsky's last acts before her arrest was to entrust a suitcase containing photographs, family papers and a notebook to her two daughters, who for two years travelled from safe house to safe house to avoid the attention of the French police.

Three decades later one daughter finally summoned up the courage to read the notebook and was astonished to discover that it was not - as she had supposed - a diary, but the first two parts of a novel. She and her sister, who is now dead, then waited another quarter of a century before finally deciding to publish.

The Goncourt winner Laurent Gaude first won literary acclaim two years ago for "The death of King Tsongor" which has been translated into English and other languages.

His new book was described by jury member Didier Decoin as "a beautiful text which takes us on a dream-like journey in an Italy which I adore. There is something cinematographic about it which is very seductive."

In recent years there have been accusations that the Academie Goncourt - whose members sit for life - is overly influenced by the major book publishers, but Gaude's publisher Actes Sud is a small company based in the southern town of Arles.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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