Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell
Comments from the judges
French writer Mathias Énard’s masterful essay-novel, in an immaculately elegant translation by Charlotte Mandell, is a fascinating ode to the joy and excitement of cultural cross-pollination between Orient and Occident. Sleepless Austrian musicologist Franz Ritter feverishly indulges in nocturnal reminiscences, reflections and ruminations, musing in an unending stream of consciousness over both his unconsummated love for French ethnologist Sarah and their travels, encounters and discoveries in East and West. His is a breathtakingly erudite if melancholy meditation on alterity, which opens itself ‘to the warm sunlight of hope’ and serves as an excellent antidote to apathy, ignorance or contempt.
About the book
As night falls over Vienna, Franz Ritter, an insomniac musicologist, takes to his sickbed with an unspecified illness and spends a restless night drifting between dreams and memories, revisiting the important chapters of his life: his ongoing fascination with the Middle East and his numerous travels to Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, and Tehran, as well as the various writers, artists, musicians, academics, orientalists, and explorers who populate this vast dreamscape. At the center of these memories is his elusive love, Sarah, a fiercely intelligent French scholar caught in the intricate tension between Europe and the Middle East.
About the author
Mathias Énard is the award-winning author of Zone and Street of Thieves, and a translator from Persian and Arabic. He won the Prix Goncourt in 2015 for Compass.
With this ambitious novel full of erudition, Mathias Énard takes the reader to a world made of one thousand and one wonders, through the melancholy monologue of a musicologist remembering his past during a night of insomnia. His feverish dreams and memories are tinged with nostalgia and recall his long-time fascination for the Middle East and his many travels. He brings back to life the Orientalists-musicians, artist, explorers…who all shared the same passion for the East, and conjures those centuries of dialogue and mutual influences between those different cultures. What makes this story even more powerful is the fact that Mathias Énard alludes to current issues echoing the tensions between West and East today, the loss of aged-long ties between peoples and the destruction of priceless world heritage.
Franz Ritter, the Austrian musicologist lies sick and spends the restless night between dreams and memories of his personal life, his enthusiasm for and his past travels in the Middle East. The novel is his monologue, ‘an erudite meditation’ in an essay-like style- about the rich history of the Orient and Occident in the 19th and early 20th centuries.