Young Senegalese author wins top French literature prize

Paris (AFP) – A young Senegalese writer unknown to the general public was on Wednesday awarded the Prix Goncourt, France's leading literature prize, with a novel exploring the destiny of a cursed African author.


Mohamed Mbougar Sarr is only 31 years old, but was the critics' favourite among the nominees.

He becomes the first sub-Saharan African to win the most prestigious French award.

"I feel so much joy," he said at the upscale Parisian restaurant where the awards are traditionally announced.

"I haven't yet found the words to say," he added.

The winning novel "La plus secrète mémoire des hommes" (The most secret memory of men), is his fifth, lauded for mysterious characters, quality of style and writing.

"With this young author, we have returned to the fundamentals of the Goncourt will," Goncourt secretary Philippe Claudel said, noting that at 31, more works could be expected from Mbougar Sarr.

The writer is the son of a Senegalese doctor and had been studying African literature at a top French university.

Goncourt president Didier Decoin said he read Mbougar Sarr's work in one sitting, calling it "a very fine book" and "a hymn to literature".

The jury only needed one round of voting to crown Mbougar Sarr.

The Goncourt is decided by a jury of seven men and three women, but laureates take just 10 euros in prize money.

The award however traditionally guarantees the sale of hundreds of thousands of books.

Herve Le Tellier's 2020 winner, "L'Anomalie", a fantasy sci-fi thriller has already sold more than a million copies.

Belgian Amelie Nothomb meanwhile won the Prix Renaudot with her novel "Premier sang" (First blood) relating invented memories of her father who died last year.

Belgian novelist Amelie Nothomb won France's Renaudot award
Belgian novelist Amelie Nothomb won France's Renaudot award JOEL SAGET AFP/File

The Renaudot is seen as complementary to the Goncourt and announced at the same time and place.