November 08, 2006

Jonathan Littell

Snapshots In My Time...
Of My Time.....Hauntings.

American writer Jonathan Littell won France's top literary honor, the Goncourt Prize, on Monday for a 900-page novel narrated by a Nazi SS officer -- and written in French.

"Les Bienveillantes," or "The Kindly Ones," has won wide attention in France both for its subject matter and the nationality of its author. The Prix Goncourt is France's most prestigious literary prize.

The 38-year-old Littell was not in Paris when the award was announced, but in Barcelona, Spain, where he lives, according to his publishing house Gallimard. Littell won the Academie Francaise's top literary honor last month.

Antoine Gallimard, Littell's editor, said the author was "very happy" about the prize but preferred to remain out of the limelight.

The book, which has topped French best-seller lists for weeks, will be published in the United States in 2008, following an extensive bidding war won by HarperCollins.

It has sold 200,000 copies since it was released in late August, according to Gallimard.

Littell was born in the United States, but later lived in France and wrote the book in French as a tribute to two of his favorite authors, Stendhal and Gustave Flaubert. Littell's father, Robert Littell, is known for such spy novels as "Legends" and "An Agent in Place."

The 103-year-old Prix Goncourt guarantees literary acclaim and high sales for an author. Past winners include Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras.

The Goncourt jury members, following tradition, announced the winner after voting in a restaurant near Paris' Opera Garnier.

Goncourt jury member Jorge Semprum, a Spanish author who was part of the anti-Nazi underground in France and was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp, called it "THE book about this period."

"It's the book at least the last half-century," he told LCI television.

The second-highest French literary prize, the Prix Renaudot, was given Monday to Alain Mabanckou for "Memoires de porc-epic," or "Memoires of a Porcupine."


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