PARIS, France — An all-woman jury on Monday awarded France’s prestigious Femina Prize to Haiti’s Yanick Lahens and Israeli author and suicide-attack survivor Zeruya Shalev for their family-based epics.
Lahens scooped the French-language section of the award for Bain de lune, a novel about three generations of the same family interwoven with political opportunism and other challenges facing her home country.
Shalev, meanwhile, won the best foreign-language part of the prize for The Remains of Love, about a mother in her twilight years who reflects on painful memories linked to her demanding father, her uneven love for her two children and loveless marriage.
“I’m really happy,” Lahens told AFP. “This book and this prize are proof that Haitian culture is very strong and the novel shows how much we in Haiti can always recover from ordeals.”
Lahens was born in Port-au-Prince in 1953 and has since become a prominent figure in Haitian literature, who is also actively engaged in the social and cultural development of the country.
Christine Jordis, spokeswoman for the Femina jury, said the novel transported readers away from their usual horizons.
“The author has a big imagination, she talks about her dead ancestors who still have a very strong influence on the living,” she said.
Shalev, meanwhile, is one of the only authors in Israel who lives off her writing, and her novels have been translated into 21 languages.
Born in 1959 in a kibbutz in Galilee, the 55-year-old now lives in Jerusalem, where in 2004 she was seriously injured in a suicide attack.
She nevertheless refuses to transform literature into political manifestos, saying she writes “books that examine the human, universal soul, that often talk about the war of the sexes but not people’s wars.”
“I am very critical of Israeli policies but I have the very clear certainty that the Jewish people must have a state,” she recently told L’Obs weekly.
The Femina Prize involves a noted all-woman jury that selects books by both male and female writers and has often accused France’s most prestigious literary award — the Prix Goncourt due to be announced Wednesday — of “misogyny.”