French Foreign minister Laurent Fabius presented author Philip Roth with the insignia of Commander of the Legion of Honor, at a formal ceremony at the French Embassy in New York on Friday.
During the ceremony Fabius praised Roth for his contribution to literature and outlined his long relationship with France, including having had his first short story published in The Paris Review.
Fabius praised Roth for his “art of storytelling, your irony and self-depreciation, which is not typically French,” he said. “You have enjoyed immense success in France.”
Fabius spoke of Roth’s place on the literary map, sitting next to great French writers like Celine and foreign writers who have been influenced by French literature such as Dostoevsky. “You have always enjoyed confusing the public…blurring the lines between fiction and reality,” said Fabius to Roth.
Roth accepted the award explaining the long inflence that France played in his life. French was the first foreign language that he had studied. Though he never did master spoken French, French fiction played an important role in Roth’s life. He taught comparative literature for many years.
The event also celebrated the groundbreaking of what will be New York’s only French bookstore when it opens in the first quarter of 2014. The bookstore is being built inside of the French embassy and Fabius laid the first stone during the soiree. Fabius spoke about the importance of every link in the book publishing process. “Writers and books need bookstores,” he said.
“It is essential to consider books as a living link to the writer, publisher, distributor, bookstore,” he stressed. “Every link of this chain has to be supported.”
The bookstore will host readings and cultural events. “We wanted it to be more than a bookshop,” he said. It will be “an open area for stimulating debates and an idea platform to generate community.”