Literary tête-à-tête: French LitFest 2022

The mutual love for books, that India and France share, came alive at the French LitFest 2022 with eminent French authors and novelists bringing forth a literary extravaganza filled with round tables, debates, and insightful interactions

Les Grand Personnes at Lodhi Garden (Photo credit: Bonjour India)

The French LitFest 2022 was recently inaugurated at Bikaner House, Delhi as part of ‘Bonjour India’ — an artistic, cultural, educational, and literary initiative by the Embassy of France and its cultural service Institut Français en Inde, the Alliance Française Network, and the Consulates of France. Distinguished French authors, graphic novelists, and children’s writers added to the literary show by participating in round tables and debates on contemporary French literature. 

These were followed by interactions with children and book signings at some of Delhi’s most popular bookstores. The French LitFest comes on the heels of the Paris Book Festival, which was held in Paris from 22nd – to 24 April. India was the guest of honour this year.

As part of the LitFest, the French authors have also travelled across India to meet their readers and other Indian authors and publishers. The authors visited Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Pondicherry, Pune, Mumbai, Jaipur, Hyderabad, and Chandigarh to meet others.

The authors include Christine Jordis, Tiffany Tavernier, François-Henri Désérable, Patricia Loison, Marie Darrieussecq, Patrick Weil, Marie Desplechin, Simon Lamouret, Anaïs Depommier, Cyril Nguyen Dinh, and Jul Berjeaut.

The LitFest was inaugurated by Eva Nguyen Binh, President of Institut Français, France, and Mugdha Sinha, Secretary of Science and Technology, Government of Rajasthan on 7 May.

“I am very, very happy to be here in India as part of Bonjour India festival that celebrates the 75-year milestone of Indo-French diplomatic relations and India’s 75th year of Independence”, rejoiced Eva Nguyen Binh while touching upon the love for books and literature that India and France share.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to all the distinguished authors who have travelled all the way from France to be a part of the French LitFest 2022. We have been in partnership with the French Institute and the French Embassy for almost two years. It began during the lockdown, interestingly, when we had Jean-Claude Perrier come to Jaipur, and we decided to do an online session with him which was very well received. We are grateful to the French Institute and the French Embassy for reciprocating the gesture by a gift of French books translated into Indian languages to the Jawahar Kala Kendra”, revealed Mugdha Sinha.

The festival started with a round table discussion around Trends of Contemporary French Literature with three noted French authors (Christine Jordis, born in Algiers, Patricia Loison, born in Delhi, and Marie Darrieussecq, born in Bayonne) who discussed what it means to be a woman, an author, and ‘vagabonds’ of the world. 

Talking about the session on the sidelines, Marie Darrieussecq, an author, a translator and a psychoanalyst, explained, “We are three French writers, women. Christine Jordis is a member of the Prix Femina. I am a member of another big prize in France called the Prix Médicis. As part of the session, we endeavoured to give an idea about the French landscape of literature, what the writers in France do at the moment, and what we do with prizes, among other things.”   

The Algerian-born French author Christine Jordis, who has written a biography on Mahatma Gandhi, has travelled to India on many previous occasions. Talking about the French LitFest on the sidelines, she revealed, “I love the idea of a French LitFest in India. I believe the Indian writers are very important. I was and I am still, in a way, a publisher, or rather an editor, for Gallimard in the selection of fiction in English. That’s how I discovered the writings of Arundhati Roy, for example, and published The God of Small Things and became very friendly with her and also with several other Indian writers. I have been invited to India on many previous occasions as well. And my biography on Gandhi, which I wrote more than a decade ago, has only recently been translated into Bangla.”

A resident of the Mother Teresa orphanage in Delhi, Patricia Loison was adopted at the age of six months by a Franco-Belgian couple and grew up in Paris. Today, she is a leading French journalist and television presenter. Speaking on the sidelines about the impact of the pandemic on the consuming content patterns, she explained, “The way I look at the television hasn’t changed much actually. The only change for me, especially with regards to the news show that I am anchoring on French Television, is that it’s now longer. Earlier, it used to be half an hour in duration, and now, it is an hour long. Today, we have more space for the sciences. Usually, science in the news was something which we put in the end of the news hour. Earlier, we didn’t have time for scientists to come and talk. But now, they are more than welcome to come and talk on the show.” 

Patricia tells the story of her search for her origins and her adoption in a fascinating essay titled Je cherche encore ton nom (I am still searching your name).

The second round table delved into literature, poetry, and visual writing featuring François-Henri Désérable (a former ice hockey player who has moved towards literature) and Tiffany Tavernier (a novelist and screenwriter who as a teenager got a firsthand experience of the hospices of Kolkata). 

As part of the French LitFest, the Romain Rolland Book Prize was also announced which honours the best translation of a francophone title into any Indian language, including English. The winning publisher and translator were selected by an Indo-French jury. The Romain Rolland Prize 2022 was conferred upon Meursault, contre-enquête by Kamel Daoud, published in Bengali by Patra Bharati and translated by Trinanajan Chakraborty.

Dana Purcarescu (Right), Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of France in India with the winner of the 5th edition of the Romain Rolland Prize 2022

As part of the French LitFest, literary talks and book signing events were also organized at bookstores. During a talk at the Eurêka Bookstore in Greater Kailash, visitors imagined the childhood of well-known personalities, such as Santa Claus or the Fairy Queen, with the author of Enfances—Marie Desplechin. Also, visitors met Simon Lamouret and grabbed the opportunity to buy a signed copy of his award-winning French graphic novel The Alcazar, at Bahrisons Bookstore in DLF Phase IV in Gurgaon. 

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Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic