I mentioned this literary prize last year: an opportunity for French-speaking writers in Switzerland to measure themselves against French writers living and working in the Rhone-Alpes region. The shortlist for this year included:
Jacques A. Bertrand: Comment j’ai mangé mon estomac (How I ate my stomach)
The author turns his trademark humour on a very serious topic: his stomach cancer. This is not just an account of the illness, its diagnosis and months of treatment, but also a touching love story, since his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same time.
How can you not love an author who says his favourite books are Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal, Hesse’s Steppenwolf and Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita?
Xochitl Borel: L’Alphabet des anges (The Alphabet of Angels)
This Swiss author spent part of her childhood in Nicaragua, toured round the world with her parents when she was 13, and now lives in Lausanne. This is her debut novel, the story of a disabled girl who wants to learn the alphabet before she goes completely blind.
Borel mentions the work of Marina Tsvetaeva and Panait Istrati as influences, so again a reason to want to know more about her.
A historical family saga set in the mid 19th century, about a simple farmer whose family believed he was destined for great things and therefore named him Charlemagne.
Not my cup of tea, even if the author pays tribute to Madame Bovary and Truman Capote.
Slobodan Despot: Le Miel (Honey)
Born of a Serbo-Croat father and a Bosnian mother, the author came to Switzerland as a child. In this novel he revisits the Yugoslav war, seen through the eyes of a mild teacher turned beekeeper and his two sons.
Despot cites Moby Dick and Anna Akhmatova as his inspiration.
Christophe Fourvel: Le Mal que l’on se fait (The Evil We Do to Ourselves)
Born in Marseille, Fourvel has worked as a bookseller and librarian in France and enjoys interdisciplinary writing projects. This novel follows the passage of a mysterious man, with no future and no past, who appears out of nowhere in three different nameless town, on three different continents. Described as both an external and an internal journey and a bit of a puzzle.
Fourvel mentions Marguerite Yourcenar and Les Liaisons dangereuses as his influences.
Valerie Gilliard: Le Canal
A little girl drowns in the canal of Yverdon, a spa town in Switzerland. The five witnesses each have their own account of the incident, but their voices form a choir (sometimes a cacophony), and ultimately paint a poetic portrait of life in a small town, where nothing is quite discussed nor ever completely hidden.
With mentions of Milan Kundera and Flaubert as favourite authors, I am sufficiently intrigued by this story to try and seek it out at the library.
Max Lobe: La Trinité Bantoue (The Bantu trinity)
Born and raised in Cameroon, Lobe came to Switzerland at the age of 18 to study. He now lives and writes in Gevneva but his work is still very much influenced by African folktales and storytelling.This semi-autobiographical novel follows the trials and tribulations of a young African man trying to start a new life in Switzerland.
His literary mentors include: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ramuz and Dany Laferrière. Another one worth investigating further.
Jean-Michel Olivier: L’Ami barbare (My Barbarian Friend)
This is a fictional reimagening of the life of Vladimir Dimitijevic, born in Skopje, passionate about football, reading and writing, who founded the publishing house L’Age d’Homme in Switzerland. The author Olivier is an essayist and fiction writer born in Vaud.
Jean-Christophe Rufin: Le Collier rouge (The Red Necklace)
Well-known for his humanitarian and diplomatic activities, Rufin is a respected travel writer, essayist and historical novelist and a member of the French Academy. This novel is about the futility of war and its many sacrifices. A veteran of the First World War commits a crime and is imprisoned in a small town in France in 1919. His dog starts howling in despair, driving all the people in the village crazy, but he is also the only one who knows the secret as to why his master is in prison. A military judge becomes curious about this strange person.
Eric Vuillard: Tristesse de la Terre (The Sadness of the Earth)
A novel about Buffalo Bill and the massacre at Wounded Knee for this French writer and film-maker, who frequently draws upon historical events for his inspiration.
Only two women on the shortlist, one black writer, and two other immigrant writers. It’s not just the US/UK publishers and literary prizes who are not that diverse then… And only three that I fancy reading.
The winners were: Xochitl Borel on the Swiss side and Christian Chavassieux on the French side.