BEIRUT: The second edition of “Le Choix de L’Orient” prize was launched Wednesday as part of the prestigious literary Prix Goncourt shortlists. On Oct. 1, the Goncourt Academy chose nine novels, which would be scrutinized by students from Lebanese, Egyptian, Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi universities to decide which work is worthy of translation into Arabic. The winner will be announced Nov. 3.Organized by the French Cultural Institute and the Francophone University Agency, this event is organized as part of the upcoming Francophone Book Fair, scheduled for Nov. 1-10 at BIEL.
Author and pedagogue Charif Majdalani will preside over the jury of students. “Literature is the last domain where mankind can understand each other,” he opined at a news conference given at Warwick Palm Beach Hotel.
Last year’s edition of “Le Choix de L’Orient” gave the nod to Mathias Enard’s “Rue des Voleurs.” This year’s jury will choose from works by Sorj Chalandon, Karine Tuil, Sylvie Germain, Pierre Lemaitre, Boris Razon, Laurent Seksik, Chantal Thomas, Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Frederic Verger.
Chalandon’s “Le Quatrieme Mur” tells the story of George, whose dream is to go to Lebanon in order to direct and stage Jean Anouilh’s play “Antigone.” This highly personal work reflects not only the writer’s personal theatrical fantasies but also draws upon his personal experience as a reporter for the Liberation newspaper, and the difficulties he encountered while on the job.
Tuil’s “L’Invention de nos Vies” is a darker work. It focuses on Sam Tahar, a successful New York businessman who seemingly has everything he ever wished for. His one problem is that his success rests on his having assumed the identity of one of his friends back in France – a friend who has the support of the beautiful Nina. One day, all three meet again, throwing his successful life up in the air.
Equally somber, Germain’s “Petites Scenes Capitales” was written with the intention of depicting a torturous family predicament via 49 different scenes.
It would appear that existential crises are among the favorite leitmotivs in this year’s literary prize.
Lemaitre’s “Au revoir La-Haut” portrays the unusual post-World War I friendship of Albert and Edouard.
For those looking for long works of nonfiction, they may be surprised by Boris Razon’s “Palladium,” an autobiographical account of how he came to be gradually paralyzed, and how he’s adjusted with his physical disabilities.
Also centered on clinical practice, Laurent Seksik’s novel “Le Cas Eduard Einstein” spins a tale of the son of famed physicist Albert Einstein, who apparently died in a Zurich psychiatric hospital after being abandoned by his family due to his schizophrenia.
Historical novels have found a roost in “Le Choix de L’Orient” as well. Set in 18th-century France, Chantal Thomas’ “L’Echange des Princesses” tells the story of Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, who cooks up the plan of marrying the 11-year-old Louis XV to 4-year-old Maria Anna Victoria, and his own daughter with the young Prince of Asturias.
Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s light-hearted “Nue,” meanwhile, tells the story of haute couture designer Marie. Set in World War II’s Slovakia, Frederic Verger’s “Arden” relates a tale about the friendship of Alexandre de Rocoule and Salomon Lengyel.
This year’s “Le Choix de L’Orient” once again thrusts students from different cultural backgrounds into the arms of contemporary literature, with the promise that one of these books will find a wider audience in Arabic. The suspense is palpable.