Prix Goncourt goes to high school teacher Alexis Jenni
France's highest literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, was awarded Thursday to Alexis Jenni for his novel "L'Art Français de la Guerre" (The French Art of War). Jenni is a first-time novelist and father of three who teaches high school biology.
For now, Jenni will have to keep his day job. Despite its prestige, the Prix Goncourt comes with just a token financial reward -- about $13. Yet the attention it brings often means a significant increase in book sales for the winner.
Previous winners of the Prix Goncourt include some of France's most important writers, including Marcel Proust, Marguerite Duras and Simone de Beauvoir. In 2010, the bad boy of French literature, Michel Houellebecq, received the award for his novel "La Carte et le Territoire" (The Map and the Territory).
Jenni's 600-page novel is "a journey through France's military history in Indochina, Algeria and at home," the Guardian writes, "told through the eyes of Victorien Salagnon, a war veteran who becomes a painter, and the young man he teaches to paint in exchange for writing his story."
The Guardian adds that in August, Jenni told the French paper Le Monde, "a year ago, I thought I would never be anything other than a Sunday writer. Today, I am exactly where I wanted to be, but where I never thought I would arrive." He also keeps a blog.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Alexis Jenni surrounded by media after winning the Priz Goncourt. Credit: Thibaut Camus / Associated Press