Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, a funny and cerebral Goncourt

Back to the rat race (albeit with respect for barrier gestures), at Drouant’s. After a 2020 edition which saw the winner, Hervé Le Tellier, crowned for The Anomalies (Gallimard) by videoconference, the Goncourt returned to the Parisian restaurant which has been associated with it since 1903. It is from there that, on Wednesday November 3, Philippe Claudel, secretary general of the prize, announced the name of the crowned writer in 2021 : Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, distinguished for The Most Secret Memory of Men (Philippe Rey / Jimsaan), from the first round. Also in the running: Christine Angot for The Journey to the East (Flammarion), Sorj Chalandon for Eson of a bastard (Grasset) and Louis-Philippe Dalembert for Milwaukee Blues (Sabine Wespieser Editor).

For several days, The Most Secret Memory of Men was presented as a favorite. Its author, born in 1990 in Senegal – he is the first author from sub-Saharan Africa to see himself “goncourised”, and the youngest since 1976 -, was however not the most famous of the selection; nor the two houses that co-publish it (Philippe Rey on the French side, Jimsaan on the Senegalese side), regulars in the prize race. Neither did his text appear to be the easiest to access. But the impressive ambition and dizzying narrative energy of The More Secret Memory of men took everything in their path.

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Don’t you dare ask its author: ” What does it talk about ? “” This question embodies Evil in literature “, asserts with humor his narrator, Diégane Latyr Faye, a young Senegalese writer living in Paris. He follows in the footsteps of a novel published in 1938, The Labyrinth of the Inhuman, by a certain TC Elimane, who made him a darling of pre-war literary Paris. Before accusations of plagiarism lead to the destruction of the book and the disappearance of Elimane. The latter borrows many features from the Malian writer Yambo Ouologuem (1940-2017), to whom the novel is dedicated, and who suffers similar attacks, as well as a terrible disgrace, after his first novel, The Duty of Violence (Seuil, 1968), had received the Renaudot Prize.

Tongue-in-cheek trend

In The Most Secret Memory of Men, throughout Faye’s research, the stories become embedded, one narrator often hides another, we move between continents (from France to Senegal, from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires), eras and literary genres – diary, press extracts, interviews, story tinged with fantasy, learning novel … Still, the figure of Elimane slips away. And always, Diégane Latyr Faye, supported by the mysterious writer Siga D., the one who put him The Labyrinth of the Inhuman in the hands, continues his meditation on literature, its powers and its dead ends: ” Literature ; there was and never would be anything but literature; indecent literature, as answer, as problem, as faith, as pride, as life. ”

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Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, a funny and cerebral Goncourt