The fourth novel by Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr The most secret memory of men (The most secret memory of men) talks about literature and writing, Africa and the West. “The book literally contains everything it contains. It’s like reading one more book in a book,” exults Vrinda Vaz, a master’s student in French at the University of Goa.
“The book is about an African writer who disappears after writing one of France’s most fascinating books, his first and his last, a literary masterpiece. The reading public then absolutely could not accept that such an amazing work could be written by an African writer. The most secret memory of menanother African writer discovers the book and unfolds the story of this missing man in the most fascinating way,” Vaz says of the intriguingly titled book that won the Prix Goncourt last year, France’s own Booker. The Goncourt Prize is awarded to the “best and most imaginative prose work of the year.”
But Vaz was unaware of the Goncourt Prize or Sarr’s novel until she was chosen as a jury member for the Goncourt Choice of India Award. Her college professor chose her with three other students to participate in an international literary exercise that aims to democratize the process of rewarding authors in the French-speaking world. Last year, India joined the international Goncourt Choice family where students from 27 countries select their Goncourt choice after reading the four shortlisted titles in two intense months. After finishing these books, they meet, interact and discuss to choose their favorite title.
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr wins India’s first Prix Goncourt Choix for his book The most secret memory of men.
The first edition of the award in India, as part of the ongoing Bonjour India festival, was supported by 10 institutes comprising the Alliances Françaises network and nine universities across India, including University of Delhi, University of Rajasthan, University of Mumbai, Savitribai Phule University of Pune. , University of Goa, University of Pondicherry and Hyderabad University of English and Foreign Languages. Forty-seven students from these 10 establishments formed 10 local juries of the Choix Goncourt de l’Inde. Vaz is one such student.
For Vaz, who loves immersing himself in French literary texts, this was one of the best opportunities to apply his analytical skills and come to the capital to present his point of view. “It was a very healthy discussion. I mean, at first we thought we were going to pounce on each other. But it was nothing like that. It was a really mature, healthy conversation. Everyone had the chance to speak. And, of course, it will certainly add a feather to my hat”, declares Vaz who was one of the presidents of the 10 juries gathered in a room of the Résidence de France to designate the winner of the Goncourt Choice of India.
The suitors included The Journey to the East by Christine Angot Milwaukee Blues by Louis-Philippe Dalembert, The most secret memory of men by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, and Child of a bastard by journalist Sorj Chalandon.
Vaz will now participate in an International Literary Criticism Competition launched by the Académie Goncourt. The 47 Indian jury members will have two months to write a 3,000-word review of the winner in French. The competition jury will be made up of a French publisher, a French literary critic and an academic. The winner will win a trip to Paris to attend the prestigious Prix Goncourt ceremony in November 2022. Vaz hopes to be able to travel to Paris in November.
Speaking about the award, Dr Christine Cornet, Attaché for Books, Debates and Ideas, French Embassy, said, “College and university students in India have access to many quality books in English. Indeed, many of these books were originally written in French before being translated into English. What makes the Goncourt Choice of India award so exciting is that it gives bright young Indian minds new literary genres to explore in their native language. Thoughts written in French are distinct from those written in English. By reading the works of contemporary French writers, readers find a new view of the world and discover unique answers to some of life’s most relevant questions.”