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Goncourt laureate Philippe Claudel says others present opportunities, not threats

March 20, 2024 - 12:00 By Hwang Dong-hee
French writer and film director Philippe Claudel speaks during a press conference held at the French Embassy in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

A writer is not someone who lives outside the world but someone who lives within it, said French writer and filmmaker Philippe Claudel.

"I go to the markets, take the subway, read newspapers, and engage in conversations with friends. I listen to the stories around me. Consequently, all these encounters become woven into my creative process. A novel serves as a mirror, reflecting what the author has encountered, felt, and lived through," Claudel said.

The winner of the 2003 Prix Goncourt was in Seoul ahead of the 2nd Goncourt Choice of Korea this Friday, during which a group of more than 120 students who have been discussing the four finalists for the 2023 Goncourt Award in French will select its winner.

At a press conference held at the French Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday, Claudel delved into the intricacies of human nature and the thematic exploration present in his novels, focusing on his latest work, "Dog Island" (L'Archipel du Chien), the Korean edition of which hit shelves on last Friday.

French edition (left) and English edition of "Dog Island" (Stock and Little, Brown and Company)
Korean edition of "Dog Island" (EunHaeng NaMu Publishing)

Set on a fictional Mediterranean island, "Dog Island" unravels the complexity of human nature and sheds light on modern societal tragedies. When three bodies wash up on the beach of a remote island, the locals must decide whether they should uncover the truth or let the mystery die with the victims.

Published in 2018, the allegorical tale has garnered attention for satirizing how European nations address refugee issues and exposes the darker facets of human fear, selfishness and vulnerability.

Reflecting on the present, Claudel underscored the continued relevance of his work amid global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact not only in France but globally. The most important is the heightened fear among people. It has fueled fear, specifically fear of others, viewing them as potential carriers of the virus and perceiving them as a potential threat."

He added, "This war in Ukraine has also ignited conflicts across Europe. Refugees are fleeing Ukraine. … But others can be an opportunity, not a threat. France has enriched its academic and literary landscapes by embracing immigrants. Despite the ease of succumbing to fear, we must endeavor to approach others with trust and faith."

French writer and film director Philippe Claudel speaks during a press conference held at the French Embassy in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

As a jury member of the prestigious Goncourt Prize in France since 2012, Claudel will partake in the 2nd Goncourt Choice of Korea event on Friday. Korea joined as the 30th country in the international Goncourt Choice family in 2022, fostering a platform for Korean francophone students passionate about literature. This year, 128 students from 29 educational institutions have engaged in reading and discussing the four finalists for the 2023 Goncourt Award in French, ultimately selecting its winner on Friday.

Claudel highlighted the significance of encouraging literary engagement, particularly among young readers.

"Now, the decision to read a novel has become a choice that competes with thousands of other options," said Claudel.

"To increase the readership of fiction, it's not solely about publishing books. Particularly for students, there is a need to assist them in reading more effectively. Based on my observations, students or young people who aren't initially avid readers often say, 'I'm not interested in literature, I don't read novels.' However, when they participate in such events, they end up reading and say, 'I realized something is here.'"

While in Seoul, Claudel is scheduled to meet with students and the general public, and he is set to visit Kyung Hee University and the Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun on Thursday.