[The JRB Daily] Youssouf Amine Elalamy wins 2020 Prix Orange du Livre en Afrique—a prize that celebrates French writing by African writers and publishers

Moroccan author Youssouf Amine Elalamy has won the second annual Prix Orange du Livre en Afrique, for his novel C’est beau, la guerre.

The prize aims to celebrate the richness and diversity of French writing, and to promote new literary talent in Africa and support local publishers, and is awarded to a work of fiction written in French by an African author and published by a publishing house based on the African continent.

The winner of the inaugural award last year was Cameroonian author Djaïli Amadou Amal, for her novel Munyal, les larmes de la patience.

For this year’s edition of the prize, thirty-eight novels were entered by twenty-eight publishing houses based in fourteen different countries.

In addition to the €10,000 (about R190,000) prize money, Elalamy will be supported in the distribution and promotion of his book, both in Morocco and on the African continent, and also in France.

C’est beau, la guerre, the ironically titled ‘War is beautiful’, was published in 2019 by Le Fennec in Morocco and by Le Diable Vauvert in France. The novel tells the story of a young actor forced into exile, driven from his country by a fratricidal war.

Chaired by Véronique Tadjo (Côte d’Ivoire), the judging panel of ten members included Djaïli Amadou Amal (2019 winner, Cameroon), Yvan Amar (France), Kidi Bebey (France), Yahia Belaskri (Algeria), Eugène Ébodé (Cameroon), Valérie Marin La Meslée (France), Nicolas Michel (France), Gabriel Mwènè Okoundji (Congo) and Mariama Ndoye (Senegal).

Deliberations were held virtually, but Ebodé said this did not prevent a rich discussion, which was guided by two essential principles, ‘benevolence and necessity’.

The jury commented:

‘The narrator of the story takes us into the heart of a cruel war, where terror reigns and hope no longer exists. No matter what the name of the country invoked, it is easy to recognise, because any conflict is embodied with and generates death, terror and exile.

‘But the author also describes the resilience of the survivors. Through his words and his phrasing, he sticks to the very profession of his character, who is an actor. By his sense of observation and his attention to detail, the author offers us striking paintings of beauty.

‘The end of the novel, which the jury discussed at length, questions the place of art and artists in the face of the deepest tragedies experienced, and provoked, by humanity. This book speaks to the heart as well as to reason.’

Elalamy is the author of a number of previous novels, some of which have been translated into several languages. His first novel Un Marocain à New York (‘A Moroccan in New York’) won the British Council International Literature Prize for travel writing, and his 2001 novel Les Clandestins (‘The Clandestines’) won the Grand Atlas Prize and the Plaisir de Lire. In 2005, he published Tqarqib Ennab (‘Gossip’), a trailblazing book written in Darija (vernacular Moroccan Arabic). His work also frequently results in artistic, dramatic or musical collaborations. He is a founding member and current president of the Moroccan chapter of Pen International. He is a professor in the English Department at Ibn Tofaïl University in Kénitra.

The six-book shortlist for the 2020 Prix Orange du Livre en Afrique was:

  • Abdellah Baïda, Testament d’un livre, Editions Marsam (Morocco)
  • Ndèye Fatou Fall Dieng, Ces moments-là, L’Harmattan Sénégal (Senegal)
  • Youssouf Amine Elalamy, C’est beau, la guerre, Editions Le Fennec (Morocco)
  • Mostefa Harkat, Le retour au Moyen Age, Editions AFAQ (Algeria)
  • Ahmed Mahfoudh, Les jalousies de la rue Andalouse, Editions Arabesques (Tunisia)
  • Paul-Marie Traore, Jeu de dames, Editions Tombouctou (Mali)

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