BEIRUT: Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf officially joined the French Academy Thursday, an event that Prime Minister Najib Mikati said “was a source of great pride for Lebanon.
”The Lebanese-born French citizen is best known for such works as “Leo Africanus” and “The Rock of Tanios,” for which he received the prestigious 1993 Prix Goncourt.
Maalouf’s first book, “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes,” examines the period from an Arab perspective.
According to the National News Agency, Maalouf is the first Lebanese to join the elite ranks of the French Academy, which is the foremost authority on the French language. He succeeds the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, and was elected last June.
Established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the French Academy is comprised of 40 members who are elected by the body for life. Known as “immortals,” the academicians play an active role in representing the French language through such work as publishing an official dictionary.
During the induction ceremony, Maalouf wore official academy robes, and held a ceremonial sword on which he reportedly chose to have engraved a verse in Arabic written by his father, and the names of his wife Andree and his three sons, Rushdi, Tarek and Ziad.
He was quoted as saying that the sheath would also bear a cedar tree and the French national symbol Marianne, as a tribute to his bonds with France and Lebanon.
He said “I bring with me everything that my two homelands have given me: my background, my languages, my convictions, my doubts and, more than anything perhaps, my dreams of harmony, progress and coexistence.”
Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun participated in the ceremony, and the NNA reported that he called Maalouf’s membership “a great pride to raise high the name of Lebanon and change the conflict and war image that has stained our country.”
He was introduced to his fellow members on June 7 in a reception at the academy’s building in Paris.
Maalouf said it was a “privilege to take Claude Levi-Strauss’s seat.”
He told L’Orient Le Jour that his election “has a deep meaning for Lebanon, [as though] one of its sons has honored it.”
Maalouf is the first Lebanese inducted as an academy immortal.
Born to a Christian family in Beirut, Maalouf worked as a journalist in the Lebanese capital but moved to Paris with his family soon after the Civil War broke out in 1975.