Romain Rolland Book Prize celebrates translations

The Romain Rolland Book Prize awards the best translation of a French title into any Indian language, including English. The Indo-French jury takes into account the quality of the translation and the publication itself. The prize aims at encouraging and rewarding the efforts made by Indian publishers to bring the best of Francophone literature and thought, in all its diversity, to the Indian readership. Here’s more on this award and beyond.


The Ambassador of France to India, H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, recently announced the winner of the second Romain Rolland Book Prize for literary translation at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival. Out of the three short-listed works, the Franco-Indian jury selected S.R. Kichenamourty’s Tamil translation of La vie d’un homme inconnu (The Life of an Unknown Man) by Andrei Makine, published in France by Le Seuil and in India by Kalachuvadu, as the winning title.

Dr. Bertrand de HARTINGH, PhD, Counsellor for Education, Science & Culture, Embassy of France in India and Country Director, French Institute in India explains: “The Romain Rolland Book Prize is one of the actions of the French Institute in India to support translations of French books in India. On the one hand, we want to support a good publishing house. They understand better than anybody else how much the success of a book actually relies on the quality of the translation. On the other hand, we want to give the translator their dues as key players. Without them, books would not find an extended audience.”

Course in translation

Talking more about translations, he said, “The French Institute in India also launched a special training programme for translators. The first step was a one-day translation workshop focused on Indian regional languages, which took place on the 22nd of January with and at the Centre for French and Francophone Studies, JNU, and brought together more than 60 participants (Master’s and doctoral students) from various universities in Delhi. A lot more is coming up throughout the year.”

He added, “The long-term translation programme is part of the roadmap leading up to the Paris Book Fair of 2020, where India will be the guest of honour. We will see more literary exchanges in the coming months. At the Fair, India will have the opportunity to introduce new authors and recent literature works to Europe. At least 30 authors will be invited to Paris to meet their French readers, sign books and participate in events, talks and debates. Networking events dedicated to India will consolidate the cooperation between France and India in this area.’

Focus on Indian languages…

“We want to engage with the reality of India, which means we need to know what is happening in other languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi. We are looking forward to having a lot of translations happening from Indian languages to French and vice versa,” explains Dr. Bertrand de Hartingh.

The jury’s short list comprised of

  • Révolutiondans la Révolution (Revolution in the Revolution), by RégisDebray, published in France by François Maspéro, in India by Green Books, translated into Malayalam by Prabha RChatterji.
  • La peste (The Plague), by Albert Camus, published in France by Gallimard, in India by DC Books, translated into Malayalam by Geetanjali.

    The winner of the first Romain Rolland Book Prize was Main Gumshuda– a translation of Rue des boutiques obscures by Patrick Modiano into Hindi by Monica Singh and published by Rajpal & Sons.

The publishing industry: an essential part of the economy

Underlying the importance of the book and the publishing industry in France, he noted: ‘Culture is important not only as an individual experience, but also for the economy. This is why we, at the French Institute, have a programme called Culturenomics. The Creative industries sector in France directly contributes over44 billion euros to the economy,and over100 billion euros when the added value contributions of “derived” activities are taken into account. In itself, as a part of GDP, it generates seven times more than the automobile industry and more than twice as much as telecommunications. It is a great factor of growth. The publishing industry in France is the second most important creative industry. What is true for France can also be true for India, given the importance heritage, books, movies, video games, fashion, textile, design etc. has for the country” says Drde Hartingh.

India and France: the common link

“India as the Guest of Honour to the Paris Book Fair 2020 – Paris Livre, is all part of the larger, bigger and deeper commitment to work with India, and we would like it to be reflected at that time as well,” he adds.

Speaking about coming artistic collaborations, Dr. Bertrand shared that the Institute is working on two large exhibitions, that of a French artist in India, and of an Indian artist in France. “All our initiatives are made in partnership with our Indian friends in order to really raise the stakes and build proper, sound exchanges which our countries need,” he underlines.

“India and France are facing the same challenges: the relation between the citizen and technology, climate change and the evolution of our societies. We may come from different angles, but, together, we can find common solutions,” concludes Dr Bertrand de Hartingh.

Welcoming the translations, Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler said: “I warmly congratulate S.R. Kichenamourty and the publishing house Kalachuvadu on winning the Romain Rolland Book Prize this year. For the second edition of the prize, we had many excellent translations, particularly from the south, as the short list testifies, with the selection of two books in Malayalam and one in Tamil. This is a cause for celebration, as the people-to-people and intellectual exchanges between our two countries is not restricted to one city or one language. Moreover, India will be the Guest of Honour at the 2020 Paris Book Fair, which is a great opportunity to expand the number of translations and publications of Indian books by French publishers and build a dynamic network between the French and Indian publishing industries.”

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