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Culture

Tale of philosophy, violence and a Corsican bar wins France's Goncourt prize

media French author Jerome Ferrari (C) poses with his book at the Drouant restaurant … Reuters/Benoit Tessier

France’s top literary prize, the Goncourt, has gone to philosophy teacher Jérôme Ferrari for The Sermon on the Fall of Rome - a novel that takes place in a bar on the violence-torn island of Corsica.

As is traditional, Goncourt officials announced Ferrari had won in a Parisian restaurant.

Ferrari flew in from Abu Dhabi, where he teaches at the French lycée, to collect his award.

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Any impression that he was taking the news with sang froid was an illusion, he told RFI.

“I'm not calm at all, I'm overwhelmed,” he said. “Luckily I'm very tired from the flight so I seem relaxed. I have been dreaming of this prize ever since I was shortlisted for the Goncourt but it hasn’t been my life’s ambition to get it.”

The Sermon on the Fall of Rome tells the story of a young man who drops his philosophy studies to open a bar in Corsica, hoping to create a haven of happiness and peace.

But sex, drink, corruption and violence take the plot in a different direction.

“It's difficult to describe my work because my books always contain several narrative threads,” Ferrari explained. “That said, this book is about cycles - how small worlds, empires, bars and men, grow and die.”

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The book’s title refers to a sermon delivered by the mediaeval philosopher Augustine following the 410 sack of Rome.

Ferrari quotes the lines, "The world is like a man, it is born, it grows and it dies."

Born into a Corsican family settled in mainland France, Ferrari returned as an adult to teach in the Corsican capital Ajaccio before leaving for Abu Dhabi.

Corsica, which has a population of 300,000, has seen 38 murders and 117 attempted murders since the start of 2011, the highest homicide rate in Europe.

The Goncourt awards a mere 10 euros to the winner but is a guarantee of good sales for the happy winner.

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