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Frédéric Pajak wins top Swiss literature prize

From 'Uncertain manifesto' Edition Clandestin

Franco-Swiss author and graphic artist Frédéric Pajak has been awarded this year’s Swiss Grand Prix for Literature for his life’s work.

This content was published on January 14, 2021 - 11:54
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Pajak, 65, has edited and contributed to cultural and satirical periodicals and is the editor of the biannual journal Les Cahiers dessinés, devoted to graphic work ranging from cartoons to the drawings of old masters.

Frédéric Pajak Keystone / Kpinl Kpapa

However, he is best known for a long series of books which present his own full-page drawings accompanied by a sort of biographical and autobiographical narrative. The first of these was L’Immense solitude (1999), which won the Prix Michel-Dentan, a Swiss literary award, in 2000. He followed this with a similarly structured work, Le Chagrin d’amour (Broken Hearts).

“Frédéric Pajak writes, paints, draws and publishes,” the Federal Office of Culture said in a statementExternal link on Thursday.

It said the highlight of his work so far was the “lavish” Manifeste incertain (Uncertain manifesto), “an endless book that, after nine volumes and several thousand pages and images, has finally nevertheless found a conclusion”.

Pajak started the work in 2012 and finished it last year. An English translationExternal link of the first volume was published in 2019.

‘Utterly original’

The New York Review of Books said the “utterly original book […] is a memoir born of reading and a meditation on the lives and ideas, the motivations, feelings, and fates of some of Pajak’s heroes: Samuel Beckett and the artist Bram van Velde, and, especially, Walter Benjamin”.

Another drawing from 'Uncertain manifesto', featuring German philosopher Walter Benjamin (centre) Frédéric Pajak / Edition Clandestin

It added that Pajak’s “moody black-and-white drawings accompany the text throughout, though their bearing on it is often indirect and all the more absorbing for that”.

The Swiss Grand Prix for Literature is worth CHF40,000 ($45,000) and is set to be handed over at the Solothurn Literature Festival on May 12.

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