Moroccan writer wins France’s top literary prize

Chanson Douce is based on real-life story of Dominican nanny facing trial on charges of killing two children she was looking after and loved in New York in 2012.

Leila Slimani smiles after winning the 2016 Goncourt literary prize for her book Chanson Douce (Sweet Song), in Paris, on November 3rd.

2016/11/06 Issue: 80 Page: 22

The Arab Weekly
Saad Guerraoui

Marrakech - Moroccan-born Leila Slimani has won the Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary prize, for her novel Chanson Douce (Sweet Song).

“I am moved and happy but I wonder if all this is real. I cannot be­lieve it,” said Slimani, 35.

Slimani is the second Moroccan writer to win the award. Tahar Ben Jelloun, who now serves on the pan­el that chooses the Prix Goncourt winner, was picked for his novel La Nuit Sacrée (The Sacred Night) in 1987. Slimani is the 12th woman, and fifth in the last 20 years, to win France’s prestigious literary prize, which was first given in 1903.

“Usually, the Goncourt Academy awards books of the past. This year it rewards a book about the present, the daily life and its problems, like this question of delegating author­ity and love to someone stranger to the family. Many couples will recog­nise themselves in this book,” said academy Chairman Bernard Pivot of the jury’s choice.

Chanson Douce is based on the real-life story of a Dominican nanny facing trial on charges of killing two children she was looking after and loved in New York in 2012.

“I also wanted to tell the fate of an invisible and also show how the nightmare, the horror can arise from the mundane, the everyday, small misunderstandings, repeated small humiliations. Show how we must remain vigilant on all the lit­tle details that can lead to tragedy,” Slimani said.

“I found inspiration in my own life. I, myself, looked for a nanny and I discovered a world. It is a book about the daily life of a woman torn between her role as a mother and her desire to work. Today, it is more on the side of the mother that we will find guilt. The mother always has the feeling of not quite doing well.”

Slimani dedicated the prize to her parents: “My father who died ten years ago and my mother, who ar­rived from Morocco this morning, had an intuition that I would win at 4am… and to the people who taught me the love of literature, the love of freedom and who always told me that I could always get there,” she said.

Slimani made headlines with her daring debut novel in 2014 about a nymphomaniac, Dans le Jar­din de l’Ogre (In the Garden of the Ogre). The book won the Prix of La Mamounia, which is considered the Moroccan equivalent of the Gon­court.

Other finalists for the 2016 Gon­court literary award were Catherine Cusset for L’autre qu’on adorait (The Other One We Loved), Gael Faye for Petit Pays (Little Country) and Regis Jauffret for Cannibales (Cannibals).

French writer Yasmina Reza, best known for her play Art, won the Prix Renaudot for her novel Baby­lone.

“I like the authors’ writing style that the prize awards each year,” said Reza. “In my opinion, one should not react with too much vanity. This prize is above all a great opportunity for the book.”

Renaudot jury member Franz- Olivier Giesbert said that for him every new book by Reza is a classic.

“I think that’s a good thing that the world of literature is interested in this magnificent writer,” he said.

Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.

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