By Olivia Snaije
PARIS: Amin Maalouf, the Franco-Lebanese author, perhaps best known for his Goncourt Prize-winning book The Rock of Tanios was admitted to the venerable Académie Française, or French Academy, in June. Maalouf is the second writer of Arab origin to accede to the Academy — in 2005 Algerian-born writer Assia Djebar was voted in.
Founded in 1635, the Académie Française is the official authority on the French language and publishes a dictionary, of which the 9th edition is in preparation. The 40 members of the Academy are known as “the immortals” — barring misconduct, their membership is for life. Maalouf will be the seat left by anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss.
Last year when Maalouf won one of Spain’s most prestigious prizes for literature, The Prince of Asturias Award for his explorations of the Mediterranean world, the Foundation said he “made a statement for understanding and the building of bridges between cultures from an intellectual perspective.” Maalouf clearly intends to continue this mission from within the hallowed walls of the Academy.
In a recent interview with a Lebanese daily Maalouf said it was the right time to create links between cultures and one of his goals will be to make Lebanese literature, whether written in French or Arabic, better known.
He also said that his contribution to the dictionary would lie in his knowledge of the Arabic language since the roots of many words are to be found in Arabic.
Along with Assia Djebar, Maalouf may just convince the French to do away with the term “Francophone literature,” which has long been used to describe writing by authors from former French colonies and keep one, all-encompassing term: French literature.