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Afghan author Rahimi wins French literary prize

The committee behind France's most prestigious literary prize has given an exiled Afghan writer its top honor. Atiq Rahimi has been awarded the Goncourt prize for his French language novel "Syngue Sabour."
/ Source: The Associated Press

An exiled Afghan writer won France's top literary prize on Monday for his novel about the misery of a woman caring for a husband left brain-damaged by a war wound.

Atiq Rahimi was awarded the Goncourt prize for “Syngue Sabour,” Persian for “Stone of Patience,” a title derived from a folk tale about a black stone that absorbs the distress of anyone who confides in it.

“All I can say is: I'm so happy that I'll need many dictionaries, many encyclopedias to find the word or words, the expressions, to express this reaction,” Rahimi told France-2 television.

The 105-year-old Prix Goncourt guarantees literary acclaim and high sales for the winning author. Past recipients include Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras.

The Goncourt jury members, following a long-held tradition, announce the winner after voting in a restaurant near Paris' Opera Garnier. Several non-French authors have been among the recent prize recipients — including American author Jonathan Littell for his book “The Kindly Ones” in 2006.

Rahimi's book, written in French, tells the story of a woman whose husband suffers brain damage from a bullet wound, publisher Editions P.O.L said on its Web site. She cares for him and talks to him, but is angry about his sacrifices.

Born in 1962, Rahimi fled Afghanistan for neighboring Pakistan in his early 20s before receiving asylum in France. Also a filmmaker, he received a doctorate in audiovisual communication from Sorbonne University in Paris.

He returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after the fall of the radical Islamic regime of the Taliban.

Before his return he had been writing in Persian, one of many languages spoken in ethnically mixed Afghanistan.

But “once I found my roots, my languages, my origins, it was hard to continue in Persian,” he said. “After returning, I wanted to address more important questions — taboos — and the intimacy of the Afghan people, and my native tongue didn't allow for that.”

French gave him "a range of freedom," he said.

A movie based on his 2004 book "Earth and Ashes" was honored at the Cannes Film Festival, and won the Golden Dhow award for best feature film at the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

A second French literary prize, the Renaudot, went to exiled Guinean writer Tierno Monenembo for “Le Roi du Kahel” (The King of Kahel). It is a biography of French explorer Aime Victor Oliviera who sought to bring train service to a slice of West Africa in the late 19th century and set up his own kingdom beneath the official French and British rule in an area that is today part of Guinea.