The Most Secret Memory of Men: A Novel (Paperback)

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The Most Secret Memory of Men: A Novel By Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, Lara Vergnaud (Translated by) Cover Image
By Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, Lara Vergnaud (Translated by)
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Staff Reviews

One of my favorite novels in the French language, seeing a translation exists made me feel like breaking open the nearest fire hydrant. Inspired by the Malian writer Yambo Ouologuem, who Graham Greene sued for plagiarism (now doubted), the original is so, so beautifully written. Sarr reframes YO's story as one of France's history of (and present) racism, antisemitism, and colonialism. Give it all the awards.

— Aurora


A Best Book of 2023 by the New York Times and The New Yorker and Longlisted for the National Book Award

A gripping literary mystery in the vein of Bolaño’s Savage Detectives, this coming-of-age novel unravels the fascinating life of a maligned Black author, based on Yambo Ouologuem.

The first Sub-Saharan African winner of France’s top literary prize, the Goncourt.

In 2018, Diégane Latyr Faye, a young Senegalese writer in Paris, discovers a legendary book from the 1930s, The Labyrinth of Inhumanity. No one knows what became of its author, once hailed as the “Black Rimbaud,” after the book caused a scandal. Enthralled by this mystery, Diégane decides to search for T.C. Elimane, going down a path that will force him to confront the great tragedies of history, from colonialism to the Holocaust.

Alongside his investigation, Diégane becomes part of a group of young African writers in Paris. Together they talk, drink, make love, philosophize about the role of exile in artistic creation. Diégane grows particularly close to two women: the seductive Siga, who holds so many secrets, and the photojournalist Aïda, impossible to pin down.

The Most Secret Memory of Men is an astonishing novel about the choice between living and writing, and the desire to transcend the divide between Africa and the West. Above all, it is an ode to literature and its timelessness.

About the Author

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr was born in Dakar in 1990. He studied literature and philosophy at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Brotherhood, his first novel, won the Grand Prix du Roman Métis, the Prix Ahmadou Kourouma, and the French Voices Grand Prize. The president of Senegal named him a Chevalier of the National Order of Merit. He won the 2021 Goncourt Prize for his novel The Most Secret Memory of Men, becoming the first sub-Saharan African to do so.

Lara Vergnaud is a translator of prose, creative nonfiction, and scholarly works from the French. She is the recipient of two PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants and a French Voices Grand Prize, and has been nominated for the National Translation Award. She lives in Washington, DC.

Praise For…

“A rollicking literary mystery…an aerobatic feat of narrative invention, whirling between noir, fairy tale, satire, and archival fiction in its self-reflexive meditation on the nature of literary legend…propulsive.” —The New Yorker

“[The Most Secret Memory of Men] travels through space and time, from contemporary Paris to postwar Argentina to a Senegalese village. Besides the main narrator, a collection of voices complement one another to form an overall story, as one of the novel’s main goals is to put different realities and traditions ‘on the same level.’” —New York Times

“Sarr’s dizzying display of reference…plays a witty game with French and world literature…This effervescence is infectious and casts its charm in times nostalgic for a belief in books and the communities they create.” —Times Literary Supplement

“Captivating, precise, sensual prose. A book that will stir your emotions and make you think. A love letter to literature, this novel is already a classic and it will haunt you.” —Leïla Slimani, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Nanny
“Brilliantly executed…a rich narrative about art as a lasting marker of ephemeral individual existence. Literary mystery fans will be captivated.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Sarr investigates with keen psychological detail…[The Most Secret Memory of Men] justifies itself as the winner of the 2021 Prix Goncourt, one of France’s most prestigious literary prizes…a novel of undoubtable prowess.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A playful defense of Ouologuem, one laced with rage at a literary establishment obsessed with identity…[an] act of imaginative recovery.” —The Drift

“More than an engrossing investigation into the mysterious author of a cursed book, Sarr’s magnificent novel also offers a profound reflection on the resonance of literature in our lives.” —David Diop, International Booker Prize–winning author of At Night All Blood Is Black

“A powerful book, crossed by an epic breath that celebrates the power of literature.” —Alain Mabanckou, author of Black Moses

“Thanks to translator Lara Vergnaud, English-language readers can seamlessly experience Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s pyrotechnic prose. A labyrinth of a novel, The Most Secret Memory of Men is as enthralling as it is thought-provoking. Sarr is a writer that comes along once in a lifetime.” —Eric Nguyen, author of Things We Lost to the Water

“I thought I’d come to terms with the spellbinding style of this young prodigy of Senegalese literature. That was until I came across his most luminous, vertiginous, and cerebral novel, The Most Secret Memory of Men. Sprinkled with flashes of rare purity, this is a high-flying reflection on the art of writing as well as the freedom and solitude it brings to the writer. Here comes an investigation about a cursed author, in which not one style, but many styles are woven together to give birth to a masterpiece of pure wonder. Sarr has written a political, funny, and sensual work of fiction that readers will devour like detective fiction with an esoteric flavor. It’s also a compelling journey into the dark pages of History, as well as to the heart of a question that lives in all those who can’t live without books: What can literature do while so many events constantly beset us?” —Blaise Ndala, award–winning author of In the Belly of the Congo

“An ingeniously constructed, ferociously intelligent literary detective novel in the tradition of Roberto Bolaño and Jorge Luis Borges. In The Most Secret Memory of Men, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr adds to the West’s fascination with canonization, cult books, and their absent authors, but with a resolutely postcolonial twist. His comic, piercing, multifaceted story politicizes the tendency of Europe’s literary establishment to tokenize and then erase marginalized authors. A brilliant, labyrinthine, highly entertaining page-turner, rightly cemented as a contemporary masterpiece by the Prix Goncourt.” —Dimitri Nasrallah, bestselling author of Hotline
Product Details
ISBN: 9781635423273
ISBN-10: 1635423279
Publisher: Other Press
Publication Date: September 26th, 2023
Pages: 496
Language: English