TOP literary prize goes to doctor for historic novel

Monday, November 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) _ A doctor-turned-author won the Goncourt prize for his novel ``Rouge Bresil'' on Monday, the second time Jean-Christophe Rufin has received France's top literary award.

Rufin, the former vice president of Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, won by a one-vote margin on the 10th round of voting.

The French doctor said he ``cried like a baby'' on learning of the decision. ``I was convinced I wouldn't get this prize,'' he told LCI television.

The Goncourt jury meets each year at the Drouant restaurant in Paris to select the book it deems to be the best new work in French literature. Although the prize comes only with a nominal purse of $10, it guarantees a blitz of media attention and soaring book sales.

``Rouge Bresil,'' a historical novel, retraces the French conquest of Brazil during the Renaissance through the eyes of two children in search of their parents.

The young boy, Just, becomes a chief among the colonizers, while the young girl, Colombe, takes the side of the Indians ``and will guide us through this Indian world which has completely disappeared today,'' Rufin said on France-Info radio.

``It's a form of an ecological novel, if you like,'' the author said. ``It's the confrontation of two different and opposing concepts of nature.''

Rufin began writing only in 1997 but immediately won the Goncourt for a first novel for ``L'Abyssin''.

A second prestigious prize, the Renaudot, went to another novel with a historic setting, ``Celeste'' by Martine Le Coz. It is the story of a young bourgeois woman who falls in love with a Haitian doctor during a cholera epidemic in the France of 1832.