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And now, for the winner of France’s top book award...

All eyes are set for Monday’s announcement of the Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious French literary award amid hopes that this year could mark a historic first in the history of the prize.

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France’s literary establishment -- as well as the vast French-speaking and reading community across the world -- was eagerly awaiting Monday’s announcement of the Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious French literary award.

The lead-up to the 2009 Prix Goncourt announcement has been dominated by speculation that, for the first time in history, the prize could be awarded to a black woman.

French-Senegalese writer Marie NDiaye, 42, is a frontrunner among the eight authors shortlisted for the Goncourt for her latest work, "Trois Femmes Puissantes" (Three Powerful Women).

The Goncourt is the most eagerly awaited in a series of book awards announced during France’s annual two-week book prize season, which was launched late last month.

Long on prestige, short on cash

Dating back to 1903, the Goncourt is long on prestige, but famously short on monetary reward. The winner of France’s most prestigious prize takes home a pittance of only 10 euros, an amount set at the turn of the previous century.

It however guarantees the author a spot in the best-seller lists in a nation of avid readers.

Last year, the prize went to Afghan writer and refugee Atiq Rahimi's "The Patience Stone", and in 2006 to Jonathan Littell, an American who writes in French, for "The Kindly Ones", an epic tale of wartime Europe seen through the eyes of an unrepentant Nazi officer.

This year’s frontrunner has gripped French literary circles with her latest book, part of a trilogy weaving the stories of three women whose lives straddle Africa and its former colonial rulers.

If NDiaye’s book wins, she would not only be the first black woman to win the prize but also the first female laureate in the past decade.
 

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