“Le Sermon sur la Chute de Rome” (The Sermon on the Fall of Rome) tells of a young man who packs in his philosophy studies to open a bar on the island with an old friend, hoping to turn it into a haven of peace and friendship.
But things take a radically different turn as drink, sex, corruption — and the violence for which Corsica has become known — cast their shadow over the young idealists’ plans.
“Did you know that Barack Obama was re-elected today? Don’t you think we should put things in perspective?” the novelist joked with reporters pressing him for a reaction to receiving the century-old prize.
Born into a Corsican family settled on the mainland, Ferrari returned as an adult to teach high school philosophy in the Corsican capital Ajaccio. He now teaches in Abu Dhabi.
His Goncourt win comes with Corsica making headlines over a jump in violence, with 38 murders and 117 attempted murders since the start of 2011, for a population of just over 300,000 — the highest homicide rate in Europe.
Most of the slayings, police believe, have been linked to feuds over control of protection rackets targeting tourist businesses and lucrative property development on an island that remains relatively unspoiled. But this is no crime novel.
The Goncourt jury called the book a “fine parable on contemporary hopelessness, but with a hopeful message: the end of a world doesn’t have to spell the end of the world.”
Its title refers to a sermon delivered by the mediaeval philosopher Augustine following the 410 sack of Rome, from which Ferrari quotes the lines,