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"The Book That Shook France's African Colonial Empire" Topic

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443 hits since 15 Nov 2018
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Nov 2018 9:38 p.m. PST

"Over six rounds of voting, the Académie Goncourt in Paris couldn't decide the best French novel of 1921. Then, on December 14, a deciding vote cast by the organization's president broke the deadlock and shook the Francophone world: The Prix Goncourt, France's top literary award, had gone to René Maran, a French Guyanese colonial administrator in Ubangui-Shari — what is today the Central African Republic. Maran was the first Black winner of the then-18-year-old award. But as civil rights and anti-colonial movements were stirring, it was the content of Maran's novel that truly set off tremors on both sides of the Atlantic.

"You build your realm on dead bodies," wrote Maran in the preface to the book, Batouala. "You are living a lie. Everything you touch you consume."

A searing indictment of French colonialism in central Africa, the book was an insider's account that forced France to confront the reality of its "civilizational" mission, much as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness had lifted the veil on Belgian brutality in the Congo two decades earlier. The French Parliament debated the book, with some accusing Maran of defamation and others arguing that he had exposed exploitation. Several French writers criticized the Académie Goncourt, with some predicting Batouala would soon be forgotten…."
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