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French identity debate inspired Goncourt literary prize winner Jenni

media Goncourt winner Alexis Jenni AFP

Biology teacher Alexis Jenni on Wednesday won France's top literary award, the Prix Goncourt, for his first novel L'art francais de la guerre (The French Art of War). He says it was partly inspired by the debate on French identity announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government.

Jenni’s book is an adventure story, which is also a reflection on the heritage of French colonialism in Indochina and Algeria

He wanted to break with “a sort of permanent amnesia" that had been dominant when he was growing up, the 48-year-old teacher from the southern city of Lyon told the Nouvel Observateur magazine in September.

The controversial national identity debate championed by Sarkozy and former immigration minister Eric Besson was a major inspiration, he told the AFP news agency Wednesday, adding that he wanted to make people think about the question, rather than express a personal opinion on it.

L'art francais de la guerre beat stiff competition from four authors, including La belle amour humaine by Haiti's Lyonel Trouillot.

“I didn’t even think I would be published, so the Goncourt wasn’t even worth thinking about,” he said in reaction to be awarded the most prestigious award on the French literary scene.

Dossier: 50 years of African independence

The prize is only worth a symbolic 10 euros but winning books sell an average 400,000 copies.

Last year's prize was won by France's best-known living writer Michel Houellebecq, for his bestselling La carte et le territoire (The Map and the Territory).


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