This unrivalled storyteller is also, in the words of his predecessor as perpetual secretary of the Académie, “a bridge between two worlds”, the Lebanon of his origins and France, where he has lived since 1976. His erudite work examines exile, identity and cultural crossbreeding.
Franco-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, elected the Académie française’s new perpetual secretary on Thursday, is a leading figure in Eastern-inspired historical fiction who has dedicated his work to bringing civilizations closer together. Inducted into the Académie in 2012 in the chair of Claude Lévi-Strauss, he had a Marianne and a Cedar of Lebanon engraved on his sword, along with the opening words of a poem by his father.
“Your whole work, your whole thought, your whole personality is a bridge between two worlds each of which has its share of crimes, but also of values. It is these values that you wish to unite”, summed up his friend Jean-Christophe Rufin, who was also vying for this prestigious post on Thursday, and moreover to bring democracy to life under the French Parliament, and who lost by 8 votes to 24.
A diasporic identity
This outstanding storyteller, who has lived in France since 1976, has written fiction such as “Léon l’Africain” (1986), “Samarcande” (1988), “Nos frères inattendus” (2020) and “Le Rocher de Tanios”, which won the Goncourt in 1993. He is also the author of opera librettos, essays and stories such as “Les Croisades vues par les Arabes” (1983), “Le Dérèglement du monde” (2009) and “Un fauteuil sur la Seine” (2016), in which he recounts the lives of the 18 academicians who have preceded him in the 29th chair (his own) since 1635.
Themes of exile, nomadism, cultural crossbreeding and identity inhabit his erudite books. In “Origines” (2004), he describes feeling obliged to his ancestors. Among his people,” he wrote, “one is naturally born a nomad, a cosmopolitan, a polyglot. And it’s the family, the sacred lineage, that underpins the “diasporic identity” of those who, like him, spread out from Lebanon around the world.
Born in Beirut on February 25, 1949, Amin is the son of a journalist and writer, teacher, painter, poet and leading figure in the city from the 1940s to the 1980s. Following in his beloved father’s footsteps, he became a journalist after studying economics and sociology. For twelve years, he worked as a reporter, covering the fall of the Ethiopian monarchy and the last battle of Saigon.
Coexistence between communities
In 1975, he witnessed the first clashes of the civil war. This humanist intellectual decided to leave for France with his family, becoming a columnist and editor for the weekly “Jeune Afrique”.
“I’m not trying to find out what country I’m from, I’m living this dual nationality, Lebanese and French, in harmony”, he said on returning to his native country in 1993 for the first time in ten years.
In “Les Désorientés” (2012), he drew on his university years to nostalgically evoke his country, “the Levant”, where before the war, all communities coexisted. There was, he says, “a quality of coexistence between different communities that should never have disappeared”.