This year’s winner of France’s highest literary honor, Atiq Rahimi, first arrived in that country as a refugee 24 years ago from Afghanistan:

the author, looking suitably rugged

the author, looking suitably rugged

Atiq Rahimi, 46, took the 2008 Prix Goncourt – the French equivalent of the Mann-Booker prize – with his first novel in French, a stark essay on the oppression of women in Afghanistan.

M. Rahimi is the second foreign-born writer to win the Goncourt in the last three years. The American author, Jonathan Littell, won in 2006 with a novel about the Holocaust, “The Kindly Ones”, which he wrote in French. Another prestigious French literary prize was awarded to an exiled foreign writer yesterday. The Guinean novelist, Tierno Monenembo, who also fled political violence in his homeland, won the Renaudot prize for his book, “Le Roi de Kahel”.

M. Rahimi, who has dual French and Afghan nationality, said yesterday that he regarded his Goncourt victory as “a sign of recognition both for my work and the story of my life”.

Although he has written four previous novels in Farsi, and several film and television scripts in French, “the stone of patience” was his first novel in his adopted language.

It takes the form of a poetic, and sometimes crude, monologue by a woman sitting with her dying “war hero” husband. M. Rahimi said that the book set “in Afghanistan or elsewhere”, showed that, beneath their full-length veils, Afghani women were the same as “women anywhere else in the world, with the same desires, dreams and hopes, the same strengths and weaknesses”.

Well, I’m intrigued. I must say that sometimes I reach my limit of “terribly oppressed women” stories – not because they’re not important but because, personally, it starts to fuck with my head. The same with books on the holocaust – I have to have a couple years in between to shake off the feeling of evil and despair.

Looks like I won’t have to worry cuz it’s not in translation yet, just his last book Earth and Ashes, the film version of which won the prize at Cannes in 2004. Not too bad for a poor ragged refuggee who walked into Pakistan with little more than an old carpet. Here’s an interesting interview with him as well.