Vital Signs

Forgotten French

Last October, the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to French novelist J.M.G. Le Clézio, the 13th French writer to win since the award’s inauguration in 1901 and the first to win since avant-garde novelist Claude Simon in 1985.  Some of the earlier French winners, such as Albert Camus, André Gide, and Jean-Paul Sartre (who, true to form, haughtily declined the 1964 award), remain well known here in the United States decades after their selections.  Others, like Anatole France (pen name for Jacques Anatole Thibault) and Roger Martin du Gard, were prominent in their day but are obscure figures now, ignored even in their native country.

The 69-year-old Le Clézio (the initials stand for Jean-Marie Gustave) is an interesting choice, and something of an improvement in Nobel terms, given the flagrant anti-American and anti-Western politicization of both the Nobel Literature and Peace Prizes in recent years.  On the Peace side there have been murderous kleptomaniacs like Yasser Arafat, preening fools like Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, and frauds like Kofi Annan, Mohamed al-Baradei, and Rigoberta Menchu.  On the Literature side the grand thinkers of the Nobel Committee have celebrated frothing anti-Americans like British playwright Harold Pinter (the 2005 winner) and tiresome moralists like Günter Grass, who won in 1999.  They have rewarded unregenerate communists like the Austrian novelist...

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