Sans capote ni kalachnikov by Blaise Ndala wins Combat national des livres, defended by Marie-Maude Denis

Combat national des livres, a five-day book debate show in French that is inspired by Canada Reads, was broadcast live on Radio-Canada from May 6-10, 2019.
Sans capote ni kalachnikov by Blaise Ndala won Combat national des livres. It was defended by Marie-Maude Denis. (Radio-Canada)

Sans capote ni kalachnikov by Blaise Ndala has won the 2019 edition of Combat national des livres. Radio-Canada investigative journalist Marie-Maude Denis was defending the novel, which was first published in 2017 and is not yet available in English. 

Sans capote ni kalachnikov tells the story of a Canadian filmmaker, Véronique Quesnel, who makes a documentary about rape victims during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and of two former rebel soldiers who are seeking to avenge the death of their father. It was a finalist for the Trillium Award for French-language fiction and the Grand prix littéraire d'Afrique noire, a prestigious French-language African literary prize.

Ndala is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came to Canada in 2007. His first book, the novel J'irai danser sur la tombe de Senghor, came out in 2014 and is currently being adapted as a movie by Franco-Algaerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb.

Combat national des livres, a five-day book debate show in French inspired by Canada Reads, was broadcast live on Radio-Canada from May 6-10, 2019.

The show, which was moderated by Marie-Louise Arsenault, the host of Radio-Canada's Plus on est de fous, plus on lit!, featured five panellists advocating for the one book they believe should win. Each book and panellist represented a different region in Canada. A public vote determined the winner.

"We celebrate Dany Laferrière, who made us know Haiti. We celebrate Kim Thúy who made us know Vietnam. We now have Blaise Ndala, who makes us know his Congo, his Africa," Denis said during the debates, and the comment was translated by CBC Books. "I want to pay homage to the beauty of his words, the poetry of his sentences and his incredible culture."

The other contenders were:

  •  Innu surgeon Stanley Vollant, representing the First Nations, Inuit and Metis nations, defended Manikanetish by Naomi Fontaine
  • Journalist Deni Ellis Béchard, representing the West, defended Pauvres petits chagrins by Miriam Toews
  • Writer Manal Drissi, representing Quebec, defended De synthèse by Karoline Georges
  • Edith Butler, representing the Atlantic region, defended Pour sûr by France Daigle

Two of the finalists are available in English. Pauvres petits chagrins  is a French translation of Toews' novel All My Puny Sorrows. Pour sûr was translated into English as For Sure.

Combat des livres ran annually from 2004 to 2014, and returned from hiatus in 2018. Other books to have won Combat des livres include Parfum de poussière (De Niro's Game) by Rawi Hage, Aminata (The Book of Negroes) by Lawrence Hill, La Belle Bête (Mad Shadows) by Marie-Claire Blais and Ligne brisée (The Break) by Katherena Vermette.


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