A Senegalese author, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s novel La plus secrete mémoire des hommes (People’s Secret Secret), received this year’s most prestigious French literary award, the Goncourt Prize. The news was announced in Paris on Wednesday.
Published by independent Philippe Rey and Senegalese Jimsaan publishers, the 461-page novel was inspired by the life of Malian writer Yambo Ouologuem, and one of his undisguised aims is to immerse African works in world literary history.
“It’s always a man’s feeling to have to choose between the stories of two continents, Europe and Africa. I, on the other hand, am trying to create a new continent. And the third continent is literature,” Mohamed Mbougar Sarr said in an August newspaper interview.
The award was received by the 31-year-old author because of his fourth novel, a nomination for all French literary accolades, a critical and audience success since September based on his style and the intertwined stories of the mysterious characters.
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr is the first black African writer to have earned the most significant French literary recognition and also the youngest award winner. “With this young author, we are back to the basics of the Goncourt Prize. Some books are still in front of him at the age of 31. We hope that you will be happy to continue writing after Goncourt, ”said Philippe Claudel, Secretary General of the Jury, at the announcement of the results. He said Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s novel had already won the majority in the first round of voting. “It’s written in a brilliant way. An anthem for literature, ”said Paule Constant, another member of the jury. Didier Decoin, president of Goncourt Academy, put it this way: “I love literature when it opens windows. I read this work right away. ”
The story begins in 2018, when a young Senegalese author living in Paris, Diégane Latyr Faye, finds a novel published in 1938 that completely shakes him. Its writer, Elimane, also from Senegal, also known as Black Rimbaud in his day, disappeared after the scandal of his work. Diégane is determined to search for the background of the masterpiece and the life of its author. Through the adventurous life stories of two African writers, the work explores the complex system of relations between Europe and Africa with humor and lyrics, as well as the fears and admirations that exist between black and white people at the same time.
The crime-like philosophical tale processes the history of the last hundred years from the beginning of the last century to the present day, from colonization to the Holocaust to the independence of African countries, believing in freedom, life and love.
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr grew up in a family of seven intellectuals in Diourbel, Senegal. As a good student, he attended one of Senegal’s most elite boys ’schools, the Saint-Louis Military Academy, and then graduated from the prestigious Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris.
“I didn’t finish my doctorate in literature because I started writing myself, and fiction was more appealing,” Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, who lives in Beauvais near Paris, told AFP news agency. His first novel, Terre ceinte, was published in France at the age of 24.
The Goncourt Prize comes with a symbolic cash prize of just € 10, but its marketing impact is significant: the award-winning book is bought by French readers in at least 400,000 copies, but there was also a work worth a million copies.
The novel is expected to be published in Hungarian in 2022 under the care of Park Kiadó.
The other most notable French literary award, the Renaudot Prize, awarded mainly for formal innovations, was awarded by the jury to Amélie Nothomb of Belgium for the novel Premier sang (First Blood) published by Albin Michel.