Amin Maalouf, the prolific French-Lebanese writer author of the bestselling novel Samarkand (1989) and whose opus The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (1983) provided rare insights into his analytical skills, was formally elevated to the status of an “immortal” by the prestigious Académie Française on Thursday. (Source: persianrealm.com)
For his ceremonial entry, Maalouf chose robes and accoutrements expressing both the French and Arab elements of his life and work. He wore a green cloak and the decoration of his academy sword included Marianne, the republican emblem of France, and a cedar, the tree that symbolises Lebanon.
Euronews Interview with Amin Maalouf (French):
Amin Maalouf Interview on why he writes in French:
About the Prestigious Academy:
The Académie’s 40 members, whose primary duty is to defend the integrity of the French language, was created by Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, better known as Cardinal Richelieu, in 1635. As King Louis XIII’s chief minister, the clergyman was far more than a man of the cloth, effectively becoming the world’s first Prime Minister.
To serve his multi-faceted objectives, the Cardinal used the Académie as a centre of power and, over the years, 719 individuals were entrusted with such authority that undeniably influenced French society. Its more renowned members included Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur and Alexandre Dumas (Jr).
Very few foreign subjects were granted the prestige of joining the immortals. Before Amin Maalouf, the first Arab to sit at the Académie, the President of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor (1983-2001) was granted the honour.
About The Blade and the Green Coat:
Dressed in the Academician’s richly ornate “green coat” — a dark blue or black coat embroidered with green and gold olive branches, hence the name — and carrying a uniquely manufactured sword adorned with the candidate’s preferred symbols of his double culture, Maalouf’s most recent choices revealed his genius.
On one side of the blade, he asked that the beginning of a poem written by his father Rushdi, be inscribed: “My God, I ask on their behalf… [“Rabbi, sa’altukah bismihinna…”], along with the names of his children: Rushdi, Tareq and Ziad.
On the outside sleeve of the sword, engraved medallions of the majestic Cedar, the threatened symbol of Lebanon, and an image of Marianne, the national emblem of France and an allegory of liberty and reason represented in the face of a woman, were also engraved.
The guard of the sword encrusted a sculpture representing the rape of Europa and at the very top, a turquoise that belonged to his mother, Odette. By paying attention to such details, Maalouf honoured those who were closest to him and the two countries — France and Lebanon — that allowed him to excel. Yet another tour de force.
The Lebanese-French writer Amin Maalouf was received with solemn ceremony yesterday into the elite body of members, known as immortals, of France’s most eminent cultural institute, the Académie Française.Maalouf, 63, whose highly acclaimed works include The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, published in 1983, and his first novel, Leo the African, which appeared three years later, devoted part of his induction speech to an impassioned message of East-West conciliation.
The nature of his honour is reflected in the institute’s membership, which numbers only 40 and conducts its own elections on prospective candidates for status as immortals.The list of literary giants who were never admitted to the academy includes Molière, Sartre, Zola and Flaubert.It was Maalouf’s third attempt to be accepted.
He will occupy the seat numbered 29 and vacated by the death of Claude Lévi-Strauss, a revered figure in modern anthropology.
Born in Beirut to Christian parents, Maalouf is one of Lebanon’s most renowned journalists and authors, citing Camus, Dickens, Tolstoy, Arab poetry and the philosopher and scholar Omar Khayyam among his influences.He was the director of the Beirut-based daily newspaper An Nahar until the start of the civil war in 1975.
Moving to Paris, he edited the magazine Jeune Afrique (Young Africa), covering events including the Iranian revolution and the end of the Vietnamese war.
For the past 25 years, he has concentrated on writing novels, essays and historical works.
Among awards for his work, he won France’s Goncourt book prize for his novel, The Rock of Tanious, in 1993 and the Spanish Prince of Asturias literary laureate in 2010 for his impact as “one of the contemporary writers who has most deeply explored Mediterranean culture, represented as a symbolic space of coexistence and tolerance”.
Although the academy only occasionally opens its doors to those from outside France, Maalouf is not the first candidate with links to the Arab world to gain election.Recognition of dual French/Arab culture was pioneered in 2006 with the admission of the Algerian novelist and filmmaker, Assia Djebar. The status of immortal reflects the lifelong tenure of membership. A member can be removed for misconduct. The wartime collaborationist leader Philippe Pétain, a hero of the First World War, was forced to resign in 1945.For his ceremonial entry, Maalouf chose robes and accoutrements expressing both the French and Arab elements of his life and work. He wore a green cloak and the decoration of his academy sword included Marianne, the republican emblem of France, and a cedar, the tree that symbolises Lebanon. In keeping with academy tradition, he dealt at length in his speech with the life and legacy of the member whose death made his election possible, Mr Lévi-Strauss.He described his entry into the academy as a source of immense joy but also a daunting ritual. He concluded his remarks by setting out his commitment to mutual tolerance between civilisations.
“When privileged to be accepted into such a family [as the academy], one does not come empty-handed,” he said.“Out of gratitude towards France and also Lebanon, I bring everything my two homelands have given me: my origins, my languages, my accent, my convictions, my doubts and most of all perhaps my dreams of harmony, coexistence and progress.“This wall of hatred – between Europeans and Africans, between West and Islam, between Jews and Arabs – my ambition is to undermine it, contribute to its demolition. This has always been my reason for living, my reason for writing and I will pursue it within the academy.”