Corsican epic wins France's top book prize
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
French writer Jerome Ferrari (C) is surrounded by media after winning the Goncourt Literary Prize 2012 for his book 'Le Sermon sur la Chute de Rome' (Actes Sud), at the Drouant restaurant, in Paris, France, 07 November 2012. EPA PhotoFrance's top literary prize, the Goncourt, today went to Jerome Ferrari for a Corsican epic, set in a village bar on the violence-wracked Mediterranean island.
"Le Sermon sur la Chute de Rome" (The Sermon on the Fall of Rome) tells of a young man who packs in his philosophy studies to open a bar with an old friend, hoping to turn it into a haven of peace and friendship.
But things take a radically different turn as drink, sex, corruption -- and the violence for which Corsica has become known -- cast their shadow over the young idealists' plans.
Himself a philosophy teacher, currently at the French lycee in Abu Dhabi, the French novelist previously taught in the Corsican capital Ajaccio.
His Goncourt win comes with Corsica making headlines over a jump in violence, with 38 murders and 117 attempted murders since the start of 2011, for a population of just over 300,000 -- the highest homicide rate in Europe.
Most of the slayings, police believe, have been linked to feuds over control of protection rackets targeting tourist businesses and lucrative property development on an island that remains relatively unspoiled.
But rather than a crime novel, his book is a sweeping fable on frustration, disappointed hopes and the futility of human endeavours, set against Corsica's dramatic mountain scenery.
Its title refers to a sermon delivered by the mediaeval philosopher Augustine following the 410 sack of Rome, from which Ferrari quotes the lines, "The world is like a man, it it born, it grows and it dies." The lesser-known Renaudot literary prize went to a Rwandan writer, Scholastique Mukasonga, for "Notre Dame du Nil" (Our Lady of the Nile), which tells of a group of young girls trying to escape the 1994 genocide.
Mukasonga, herself a Tutsi living in France, lost much of her family in the massacres. Her novel was a surprise win as it was not part of the official selection put before the Renaudot panel of judges.
For the Goncourt, Ferrari beat out competition from 11 novelists including the 27-year-old Swiss Joel Dicker for a crime novel openly inspired by the US master Phillip Roth -- to the extent of drawing an accusation of plagiarism.
"La verite sur l'affaire Harry Quebert" (The Truth About the Harry Quebert Case), tells of a young writer working to clear the name of his old mentor, accused of murdering a teenager 30 years earlier.
At odds with its mostly ecstatic reviews, France's Nouvel Observateur attacked the book as a "pale rehash" of Roth's classic work "The Stain" about a writer and his one-time professor unfairly accused of racism.
Parallels run from the broadly similar plotline to specifics like a main character born to a Jewish family in Newark, or the small US university town setting, in this case called Athena, the other Aurora.
But as Nouvel Observateur acknowledged Dicker does make plain his debt to Roth -- whose name he gives to Quebert's lawyer in the novel.