Mr President of the Arab World Institute, dear Dominique Baudis,Your Excellency, dear Dina Kawar,Ambassadors,Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury,Ladies and Gentlemen,Dear Friends,

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It is an honour, and also a great pleasure, to be with you this
in these places that symbolize the Franco-Arab friendship, to present this
4th Prize of the Arabic Novel.
In these times of political upheavals that are causing many
on both sides of the Mediterranean, I am very happy to be
associated with an event that highlights the importance we must give to
translation. I had the opportunity to recall my attachment to this thread that
short between our languages during the last edition of the Salon Expolangues,
dedicated to the Arabic language, which I had the pleasure of inaugurating this year
with the Secretary General of ALECSO.
France, for its part, has developed a dense network of gateways
between our languages and our literatures. As for my department, I
Think of the National Book Centre’s helpers around the world
translation and publication. We also launched a
emergency plan in Tunisia for libraries, but also
French-language bookstores. Concerning extraduction, from French to
Arabic, more than 400 French novels have been translated into
with the support of the National Book Centre. I am also thinking of
the remarkable action of the Institut Français, with
publication assistance programs in Morocco, Cairo, Beirut, or
still in the program of the «Fabrique des Traducteurs» of the College
international literary translation, which is currently devoting
a cycle to translate French into Arabic and Arabic into
French. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that this
Of course, the transfer takes place in both directions.
Thanks in particular to the remarkable dynamism of Dina Kawar, the
Arab Ambassadors in France has taken the initiative to create this Prize of
Roman Arabe. Since 2008, this award has been distinguished by its
specific identity: it targets masterpieces translated or written directly
in French, in order to introduce the French-speaking public to creativity too
often ignored by Arab literatures.
After Elias Khoury, after Gamal Ghitany, after Rachid Boudjedra and
Mahi Binebine, you have reserved the honor to give it to one of the
greatest figures of Lebanese literature: Hanan El-Sheikh, for his
latest novel, A Whole Story, including translations into
English has just appeared.
Dear Hanan El-Sheikh,
Writing her mother’s life in the first person is a company more
that singular. This is the challenge you have proposed in a novel
which relates a struggle against his family, against the constraints of a society
1930s Lebanese where freedom of choice was much more restricted
it cannot be today. You become the accomplice of a young girl
who gets her love letters read by her dressmaker friend, Fatmeh, at
who she is placed as an apprentice; a young woman who dreams of
heroine of Egyptian musicals like La Rose blanche,
hidden sight; Kamleh, your mother, who had to abandon you at age 5
to leave the prison of forced marriage, to go in search of her
who is fighting for her divorce. It is also the story of a
woman whose children have left the country in the grip of civil war and
who ends his days alone, to whom you lent your pen, on his
suggestion, she who could not write. Some will think that
Gayatri Spivak wrote about the speech and history of the voiceless. A story where
the love and admiration you have for your mother unfolds between
Nabatiyeh, who in the 1930s was still only a Shiite village of
Southern Lebanon, and the popular districts of Beirut.
Forced marriage, endogamy: you don’t shy away from themes
difficult. And yet you are wary of feminist labels. In
mirror games of otherness, we too often seek to find spokespeople
– women, the Arab world, transgression… Your
writing precisely escapes any logic of overdetermination
culturalist. In this story populated by friends, sisters, bellesmères
manipulative and violent men, torn identities
express themselves with humour and affection, in a world where identities
In the end, denominational or national denominations count very little against the
weight of the family. It is the simple expression of the manipulation of
feelings at stake, and its universality.
She was to become the celebrated author of the Cemetery of Dreams and
General Mail Beirut had an austere childhood marked by the
family uprooting. It was your studies in Cairo that led you to
writing and journalism, before you left a Lebanon to take
with the civil war. The Londoner you have been for over twenty years
years has become one of the most read figures in the West
Arabic-language literature. Since then, the Arabic language has
remained fully your country.
You said in an interview: The Arab literary world
works like a family: as long as you wash the dirty laundry between yourself, it
but as soon as you put it on the balcony, it becomes scandalous.”
effect something scandalous in the translation, and that’s what makes
its strength. It comes from exposure, disclosure, it is the risk and the
dialogue. Thanks to the remarkable work of Stéphanie Dujols,
your translator, thanks also to the exemplary commitment of the editions
South Acts for the dissemination in French of Arabic literature, you us
offer a beautiful text that your mother would certainly see coming,
It was my mother who wrote this book.
She’s the one who spread her wings to take her flight. I just blew the
the wind that carried her away on that long journey.”
Thank you.