The French Academy has a new face, the friendly and often laughing face of Amin Maalouf, elected Thursday September 28 to the chair of permanent secretary, with 24 votes against 8 for his friend Jean-Christophe Rufin. At 74, the Franco-Lebanese writer succeeds the historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, who died in August after twenty-five years in this position, which only 32 people have held since the creation of the institution in 1634.
As if to underline the universalism that La Coupole intends to embody, it is therefore an author who did not have French as a mother tongue who will defend its influence. Born in Beirut into a Christian family, Amin Maalouf never hid it who, in 1998, wrote in Murderous Identities: “Arabic is my mother tongue (…), it is first in Arabic translation that I discovered Dumas and Dickens and Gulliver’s Travels. »
🌿 The French Academy, in its session of Thursday September 28, 2023, proceeded with the election of the new Permanent Secretary.
Mr. Amin Maalouf was elected, replacing Ms. Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, who died on August 5. pic.twitter.com/0UppepSbYm
— Institut de France (@InstitutFrance) September 28, 2023
But he is also a man who can say, in the same essay, to celebrate the multiplicity of affiliations: “I have lived for twenty-two years on the land of France, I drink its water and its wine, my hands caress every day its old stones, I write my books in its language, it will never again be a foreign land to me. »
Favorite of academicians
By the end of the summer, his warm personality and his involvement in the life of the French Academy had made him the favorite of his peers over Jean-Christophe Rufin, who submitted his candidacy at the last minute, Monday September 25. Having become his adversary, the latter nevertheless delivered the speech welcoming Amin Maalouf among the Immortals, in 2011. “By reading you, observing you, learning to know you, I understood that it was possible by the novel’s means of reaching a wide audience without sacrificing the quality of its work,” greeted Jean-Christophe Rufin.
This alliance between literary standards and popularity has been verified since Léon l’Africain, published in 1986, ten years after the war forced the writer to flee Lebanon, aboard a makeshift boat, for Cyprus and then for France. . In 1993, The Rock of Tanios once again confirmed his mastery of the story. Taking place in the Lebanese mountains, the cradle of his family, the book will sell nearly 300,000 copies.
Author of novels and essays – the latest of which, The Labyrinth of the Lost, is due to be published on October 4 – Amin Maalouf is also the author of several opera librettos for the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, who died in June.
“More than a full-time job”
In the position of permanent secretary, will he have the leisure to tackle a new work? “It’s more than a full-time job,” underlines writer Daniel Rondeau, who has occupied chair 8 since 2019. The French Academy is a concentration of the French soul, the permanent secretary must therefore devote all his time to it. soul. »
A job which consists of “preserving the unity of the company, which brings together 40 egos, of renewing the academicians, of not neglecting all the daily work”. Among other missions, Amin Maalouf will have those of guaranteeing the financial sustainability of the Academy, which is not assured according to a report from the Court of Auditors of 2021, and of attracting valuable candidates.
Another challenge will be to succeed Hélène Carrère d’Encausse. “It’s not easy,” notes Daniel Rondeau. She combined many qualities, being very involved in administrative management, constantly worrying about linguistic issues, playing the role of compass and maintaining a real friendship with each academician. Not to mention that until the end, she carried out her mission with cheerfulness. »