By Olivia Snaije
When the distinguished Franco-Lebanese author, Amin Maalouf was voted into the august Académie Française, or French Academy last June, he became one of the “immortals,” gaining membership for life. He is just the fourth member of the French Academy following the late Hector Bianciotti, Assia Djebar and François Cheng to be a naturalized French citizen.
Today, one year later, he will be “received” at a time-honored ceremony at the Academy, occupying the seat left vacant by the late anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. He has spent much of the last year becoming familiar with Lévi-Strauss’ work, preparing the traditional speech in honor of his predecessor, Maalouf said in an interview with the Lebanese daily L’Orient le Jour.
The year was also occupied by fittings for the official embroidered uniform, which takes at least six months to make by a well-known designer. Not to mention the ceremonial sword usually created by the Parisian jeweler Arthus-Bertrand, with designs that are related to the new Academy member’s life and work. Maalouf had a line from a poem his father wrote engraved in Arabic on the blade of his sword as well as his wife and sons’ names. On the hilt there is a sculpture of the abduction of Europa by Zeus, which the writer said was an important symbol for him since the legend brings together the Levant and Europe as well as the contribution of the Phoenician alphabet to the Ancient Greeks.
Maalouf said he was particularly honored and pleased to be taking Lévi-Strauss’ seat as he has always felt an affinity with his ideas and his work which he read as a sociology student. “He is known for going towards other civilizations, for putting himself in their shoes, rather than observing the way one usually does from a Western standpoint. I can completely identify with this. I myself began to write books that tended towards the other side, in order to see history from a different perspective.”
Grasset will publish Maalouf’s new novel, Les Désorientés, in September 2012.