PARIS, Nov 4, (Agencies): Moroccan-born Leila Slimani won France’s top literary prize, the Goncourt, on Thursday with a novel guaranteed to “scare the wits out of parents”.
The chilling tale of a “perfect” nanny who murders the two children she is looking after, “Chanson douce” (roughly translated as “Sweet Song”) is based on the real-life story of a Dominican child-minder shortly to stand trial for the double murder of her charges in New York in 2012.
The book — which begins with the words “the baby is dead” — is already a bestseller in France.
A mother herself, 35-year-old Slimani, who caused a stir with her first book about a female nymphomaniac, said “the idea of paying someone to love your children for you” fascinated her.
“It leads to a very ambiguous relationship… We are always afraid they will steal our place in our children’s hearts,” said the writer, who is pregnant with her second child.
“I had nannies when I was a child and I was always very aware of their place somewhere between a mother a stranger,” she told AFP.
“I was touched by the difficult position they found themselves in,” said the former journalist.
Slimani is only the 12th woman to have won the Goncourt in its more than a century-long history, joining a list that includes Marguerite Duras and Simone de Beauvoir.
Mobbed by reporters outside the Paris restaurant where the prize was announced, she said: “It is hard to talk about literature in this craziness.”
Despite being favourite, she said that she “slept well last night, maybe because it was going to turn out well”.
She dedicated the prize to her parents, “My father who died 10 years ago and my mother who arrived from Morocco this morning and had an intuition that I would win at 4 am,” she added.
Critics said her book — which transposes the essentials of the notorious killings of the Krim children, Lucia, six, and her two-year-old brother Leo to a wealthy Parisian family — crackled with class tensions.
Another female author, Yasmina Reza, won France’s Prix Renaudot literary award Thursday for her thrilling crime novel, “Babylone.”
Reza, a 57-year-old French playwright, novelist and essay writer, has won many other prizes, including two Tony Awards for her plays “Art” (1998) and “God of Carnage” (2009).
JOHANNESBURG: Michelle is only seven years old but her poise is as disarming as her smile, which shows off a few gaps where baby teeth have fallen out when she beams about the headlines her book is grabbing at home and abroad.
The South African has become one of the youngest published authors on the continent and an inspiration for other children with a short novel she wrote largely in secret, “Waiting for the Waves”
Using green and purple pens, Michelle Nkamankeng set down the story of Titi, a little girl fascinated by the ocean and its huge waves — which the US giant Amazon bills as nothing less than “an epic tale” recounting “the inner struggle of love and fear”.
“My brother and sisters knew because they always came in my room. The are like, ‘What are you doing?” said Michelle.
“I told them not to tell mummy and daddy. I wanted it to be a surprise.”
And it was, but not quite what Michelle expected. Her parents knew she was a bookworm but were hesitant about her dream of publishing her own novel.
On the original manuscript, the hand-written sentences tilt along the pages of A4, or letter-size, sheets folded in half and put together with staples and scotch tape to resemble a real book.
Its cover bears the title and the young writer’s name while the last page has a big heart drawn by Michelle and a candid little message: “I hope you had a nice time reading this book.”
When she gave me the novel, said her mother Lolo Nkamankeng, “I took it and put it inside the bookshelves,” amidst the Bibles, dictionaries and a few magazines.
But Michelle –touted on Amazon’s website as smart and passionate — was also insistent. A few weeks later she brought her parents a second, then a third book. “I said to my mother if you don’t take me seriously, I will never write books again.”
Her dream came true a year later when her parents helped her self-publish “Waiting for the Waves”, a glossy, 50-some page novel — edited from the original — with lively illustrations by a South African artist.
The tale of how little Titi conquers her fear of waves with love and support from her own family caught attention. Michelle was suddenly on a round of book launches, press interviews and speaking engagements.
“If we are honest, it is a children’s book, it is a book written by a child …,” said Colin Northmore, head of the Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg that Michelle attends.
“In some ways I am almost more proud of her being able to speak confidently than I am about the book,” he said.
Brimming with joy, Michelle has addressed rooms packed with up to 700 high school children as well as a community centre for underprivileged youngsters.
Her experience “raises the expectations of other children and helps them to believe that it is possible for them to achieve remarkable things because there in an example, a model, a peer who has done it, “ said Northmore.
Michelle told AFP her advice for other children wanting to write books: “to follow their dreams, always believe in themselves, don’t let anybody get in your way, and if you can’t read you can’t write.”
She remains silent, however, on one of the keys that helped her achieve her dream — a mother who acts as her manager and was willing to spend 100,000 rand (6,600 euros/$7,330) to publish and promote “Waiting for the Waves”.
Sitting at the kitchen table, Michelle finishes her homework for the next day. A phrase she has written on the cover of her vocabulary book characterises her determination: “I must learn these words and store them in my memory for future use”.
Her goal at the moment is to be a paediatrician — and to continue writing and publishing.