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theguardian - 29 days ago

Laurent Binet: ‘In France, I just feel like we are lost in space’

The acclaimed novelist on the fun of plotting a counterfactual history of the 16th century, reading in lockdown, and his despair at his country’s vaccine rolloutLaurent Binet is one of the most successful French writers of his generation, author of the bestselling HHhH, which won the Prix Goncourt du premier roman, and The Seventh Function of Language, a murder mystery novel based on the life and writing of Roland Barthes. His latest, Civilisations, which won the Académie Française’s Grand Prix du roman in 2019, is a counterfactual novel, a wild romp of a book that turns history on its head. In Binet’s mirror-world, the Vikings discover America, Christopher Columbus never makes it back to Spain, the Inca king Atahualpa invades Europe, while Cervantes is exiled to Cuba. The book is translated by Binet’s long-time collaborator Sam Taylor.How did the idea to write something counterfactual come to you?
It was really by chance. I was invited to a book fair in Lima. I hesitated to go, but I went to Peru and I discovered the story of the conquest by Pizarro, and it was really an amazing tale – impossible that 200 people conquered this vast place, just as Cortés did in Mexico. I went to museums in Lima and I was fascinated by pre-Colombian culture. When I came back to France I carried on reading about the subject and somebody gave me a book by Jared Diamond called Guns, Germs and Steel. In that book there was a chapter about Atahualpa, Pizarro and their meeting at Cajamarca. Diamond asks why it is that Pizarro comes to Peru to capture Atahualpa, and not Atahualpa coming to Spain to capture Charles V of Spain. And this specific sentence gave me the idea for the whole book. Continue reading...


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