Young Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr wins first prize for French literature

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Portrait of Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, (Photo: Sophie Bassouls / Sygma via Getty Images)

  • Mohamed Mbougar Sarr from Senegal won the first prize for French literature.
  • The 31-year-old author won the coveted award for his book, The Most Secret Memory of Men.
  • The jury only needed one round of voting to crown Mbougar Sarr the winner.

A young Senegalese writer received the Goncourt Prize, the first French literary prize, on Wednesday with a novel exploring the fate of a cursed African author.

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr is only 31 years old, but was a critical favorite among the nominees.

He becomes the first sub-Saharan African to win the most prestigious French prize.

“I feel so much joy,” he told the upscale Parisian restaurant where the awards are traditionally given.

“I have not yet found the words to say,” he added.

The winning novel The most secret memory of men (The most secret memory of men), is his fifth, praised for its mysterious characters, its quality of style and writing.

“With this young author, we returned to the fundamentals of the Goncourt will,” said Goncourt secretary Philippe Claudel, noting that at 31, we could expect more books from Mbougar Sarr.

The writer is the son of a Senegalese doctor and had studied African literature at a large French university.

The president of Goncourt, Didier Decoin, said he had read Mbougar Sarr’s work in one sitting, calling it a “very beautiful book” and “a hymn to literature”.

The jury only needed one ballot to crown Mbougar Sarr.

The most secret memory of men

The cover of The most secret memory of men.


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The Goncourt is decided by a jury of seven men and three women, but the winners receive only 10 euros in prize money.

The price, however, traditionally guarantees the sale of hundreds of thousands of books.

2020 winner of Hervé Le Tellier, The Anomaly, a sci-fi fantasy thriller has already sold over a million copies.

Belgian Amélie Nothomb won the Renaudot Prize with her novel First sang (First blood) recounting made-up memories of his father who died last year.

The Renaudot is perceived as complementary to the Goncourt and announced at the same time and in the same place.


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