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Goncourt shortlist questions identity.

Summary: Le Choix Goncourt de L'Orient has returned for a seventh edition. The organizers of the yearly event announced its shortlist of eight francophone titles this week at a press conference at the Smallville Hotel. The short-listed novels all focus on stories of identity whether questioned, lost, or found.

BEIRUT: Le Choix Goncourt de L'Orient has returned for a seventh edition. The organizers of the yearly event announced its shortlist of eight francophone titles this week at a press conference at the Smallville Hotel. The short-listed novels all focus on stories of identity whether questioned, lost, or found.

Every year the prize nominates novels by authors from all over the Francophone world. The original version of this literature prize is a French affair, organized by the Goncourt Academy in Paris.

The Arabic-language version of the prize, Le Choix Goncourt de L'Orient works from the same list of authors as the French prize. While the French prize is chosen by a panel of authors, the Arabic prize takes a different approach.

"Here, in Lebanon, it is a different thing," said Salma Kojok, president of the Choix de L'Orient for the second year in a row. "We start with the same list, but it is students from different universities in Lebanon and the region that read the novels and choose a recipient."The jury of the regional prize is composed of 37 students from 33 universities in 12 countries. This year five new universities from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Sudan are taking part. Among the novels the jury will consider is "L'Evangile selon Youri," Egyptian-French writer Tobie Nathan's story of the unlikely friendship of an ethnopsychiatrist and a young Romanian migrant in Paris.

Also nominated is France-born, Senegal-raised David Diop for his bloody tale "Frere d'ame." Written from the perspective of a Senegalese man fighting for France in World War I, the novel explores the idea of good and evil in one character as, in a wild series of events, a heroic soldier turns into a merciless killer.

Daniel Picouly's "Quatre-vingt-dix secondes" challenges conventional ideas of identity, telling the story of Mount Pelee a volcano that erupted in 1902 and destroyed the town below in 90 seconds. Picouly relates this harrowing tale of destruction from the volcano's perspective.

"It is a young jury that decides the recipient of the Choix Goncourt de L'Orient," Kojok said. "The average [jury member] being 20 years old."

It is not age alone that makes this jury special. Most jurors speak French as a second language, having made an active choice to study in a language that is not their own.

"I think this says a lot about the way the French language can still make people dream," Kojok said, "while also being a real language of study and profession."

Last year, war was a central theme among the nominees. This year the nominated novels are much more thematically diverse. They include "the position of women in society," Kojok observed, "but also other big topics that are present today concerning identity."

This idea of questioned identity is central to the short-listed "Ca raconte Sarah." Written by Pauline Delabroy-Allard, the novel tells a passionate tale of a young high school teacher and single mother whose life is changed forever when she crosses paths with Sarah.

The student jury must read the eight short-listed books by Nov. 9th, when they come together to select the winning work.

"Often it is not the same recipient chosen in Paris and here, in the Arabic world," Kojok observed, "which is very interesting to see as well."

Not only first-time authors appear on this year's short list. Set in 1978-79, "L'hiver du mecontentement," Thomas B. Reverdy's ninth novel, tells the story of young individuals who manage to find their place in the world amid the labour actions of that "winter of discontent."

Nicolas Mathieu's second novel "Leurs enfants apres eux" follows young Anthony through his summers as he navigates his way into adulthood. Anthony encounters several firsts from love to tragedy and failure all integral to the formation of his identity.

Another nominee, "Maitres et esclaves," by award-winning novelist Paul Greveillac, tells of a young Chinese man who must leave his family in the village to study in the city.

Finally, Francois Vallejo's "Hotel Waldheim" follows a character named Jeff Valdera as he questions history and his position in it.

The jury will assemble to vote for the Choix Goncourt de L'Orient winner at the beginning of November. In a gesture to promote connections between the Francophone and Arabic cultures, the winning title will be translated into Arabic.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Oct 5, 2018
Words:783
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