Samar Yazbek Wins France’s ‘Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger’

Two books were awarded France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger on Tuesday, November 29, one work of fiction and one nonfiction:

yazbekThe fiction prize went to Helen McDonald’s H is for Hawktranslated into French as M pour Mabel by Marie-Anne de Béru. The nonfiction prize went to Samar Yazbek’s Les portes du néant (Bawabat ard al-‘adam), which was translated into French by Rania Samara. The English version, The Crossing, was translated by Nashwa Gowanlock and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (2015).

Yazbek’s Les portes du néant also made this year’s Medicis Prize longlist.

Nouvel Observateur called the book “not only edifying, but also with an overwhelming humanity and intelligence.”

This year’s “Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger” jury was made up of André Bay, who founded the prize, andDaniel Arsand, Manuel Carcassonne, Gérard de Cortanze, Nathalie Crom, Catherine Enjolet, Anne Freyer, Christine Jordis, Jean-Claude Lebrun, Joelle Losfeld, Alexis Liebaert and Joël Schmidt. The prize has previously gone to writers such as Orhan Pamuk, Philip Roth, W.G. Sebald, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Yazbek’s Bawabat has now appeared in thirteen languages, including Malayalam, Greek, Romanian, and Tamil.

You can read an extract from The Crossing, the English translation, at The Guardian. It opens:

The barbed wire lacerated my back. I was trembling uncontrollably. After long hours spent waiting for nightfall, to avoid attracting the attention of Turkish soldiers, I finally raised my head and gazed up at the distant sky, darkening to black. Under the wire fence marking the line of the border a tiny burrow had been dug out, just big enough for one person. My feet sank into the soil and the barbs mauled my back as I crawled across the line of separation between the two countries.