Writer, translator, orientalist, 2017 Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding
Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 2013
Mathias Énard is a truly European writer – at the same time as being an outstanding mediator between East and West. The jury in Leipzig made an excellent choice when it decided to award him the 2017 Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding. A writer, translator and orientalist who was born in Niort in western France in 1972, he received the prize for his novel “Compass”. It is no coincidence that the rhapsodic language used in this novel, which appeared in a German translation in 2016 and had already created a stir in France, winning the coveted Prix Goncourt, is reminiscent of “One Thousand and One Nights”. As in this oriental collection of fairy tales, “Compass” tells the story of a single night, Mathias Énard having his hero literally narrate for his life.
I worked on key sections of ‘Compass’ in Berlin and conducted research in libraries.
A stay in Berlin also played an important part in his work on the novel – in 2013 Énard was a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin programme. “I worked on key sections of ‘Compass’ in Berlin and conducted research into German and Austrian oriental studies in the countless libraries”, he says. “I was particularly excited by the Middle East departments in Dahlem! I am incredibly grateful to the Artists-in-Berlin programme for giving me this opportunity, which is why I made explicit mention of it in the ‘Acknowledgments’ section on the final page of ‘Compass’.”
His work has been influenced not only by Berlin, however, as Mathias Énard has been travelling the globe for more than twenty years. After studying the Arabic and Persian languages at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO) in Paris, he spent many years in Teheran and Beirut, worked as a French teacher in a Syrian village, and at around the turn of the millennium moved to Barcelona, where he still lives today. He taught Arabic at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and also embraced his culinary leanings by opening his own restaurant, “Karakala”. His breakthrough as an author came with the publication of his novel “Zone”, which also appeared in a German translation in 2010.