"Literature holds a secret."
The Most Secret Memory of Men
The only way into this podcast is a long leap headfirst into postcolonial French fiction, of all things, and a novel titled The Most Secret Memory of Men. Our guest is the toast of literary Paris, the first novelist from sub-Saharan Africa to win France’s highest book prize, the Goncourt: Mohamed Mbougar Sarr.
The first thing we feel in this magical book is Sarr himself: the doctor’s son from Dakar in Senegal, eldest of seven sons—military school, advanced education in France, and now, of course, the Goncourt. At the start of Sarr’s book, we’re at play in a Parisian nest of artists and writers, hustlers and searchers, men and women out of France’s one time colonies—Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast. They’re watching the World Cup, they’re smoking weed, they’re making love, but they’re thinking about literature. “This is our life,” one writer says, “but we also talk about it, because talking about it keeps it alive. And as long as it’s alive, our lives, even if they’re pointless, even if they’re tragically comical and insignificant, won’t be completely wasted. We have to behave as if literature were the most important thing on earth.”