Orsenna, Erik 1947-

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Orsenna, Erik 1947-
[A pseudonym]
(Erik Arnoult)


Born March 22, 1947.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, George Braziller, Inc., 171 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.


Writer. Worked as a speech writer for French President Francois Mitterand for three years; currently president of administrative council, École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage.


Académie Française.


Prix Goncourt, 1988, forL'Exposition coloniale.


Loyola's Blues (novel), Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1974.

La vie comme à Lausanne, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1977.

(Editor) Louis de Rouvroy Saint-Simon, Mémoires. 15, 1718-1720, Ramsay (Paris, France), 1979.

Une comédie française (novel), Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1980.

(With Jean-Marc Terrasse) Villes d'eaux (history), Ramsay (Paris, France), 1981.

L'Exposition coloniale (novel), Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1988, translated by Jeremy Leggatt as Love and Empire, Cornelia & M. Bessie Books (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Christophe Guillemin and Eric Fottorino) Besoin d'Afrique, Fayard (Paris, France), 1992.

(With Louis Gardel, Catherine Cohen, and Régis Wargnier) Indochine (screenplay), BAC Films, 1992.

Grand amour (novel), Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1993.

Docks: Photographies, photographs by Frédéric de la Mure, Balland (Paris, France), 1995.

Radetzky Marsch (television miniseries), 1995.

(With Eddie Kuligowski) Rochefort et la Corderie royale (history), Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques et des Sites (Paris, France), 1995.

Mésaventures du paradis: mélodie cubaine (travel), Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1996.

Histoire du monde en neuf guitares (novel), Fayard (Paris, France), 1996, translated by Julia Shiek Smith as History of the World in Nine Guitars,Welcome Rain Press (Brooklyn, NY), 1999.

Deux étés (novel), Fayard (Paris, France), 1997.

(With Hervé Amiard) L'atelier de Alain Senderens: Les maîtres de la gastronomie, Hachette (Paris, France), 1997.

Longtemps (novel), Fayard (Paris, France), 1998.

(With Bertrand Poirot-Delpech) Discours de réception de Erik Orsenna à l'Académie française et résponse de Bertrand Poirot-Delpech, Fayard (Paris, France), 1999.

(With Daniel Mordzinski) Lumieres du sud: portraits et récits d'écrivains d'Amérique Latine, En Vues, 1999.

Portrait d'un homme heureux: André Le Nôtre, 1613-1700 (biography), Fayard (Paris, France), 2000, translated by Moishe Black as André Le Nôtre: Gardener to the Sun King, Braziller (New York, NY), 2001.

La Dette (television screenplay), 2000.

(With Gérard Macé) City and Landscapes, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001, published as Henri Cartier-Bresson: City and Landscapes, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 2001.

La grammaire est une chanson douce (novel), Stock (Paris, France), 2001, translated as Grammar Is Sweet, Gentle Song, Braziller (New York, NY), 2004.

Mademoiselle Else (television screenplay), 2002.

Also author of preface, Littoral, Volume 1, by John Batho, Marval (Paris, France), 1994. Some of Orsenna's works have been translated into Spanish and Korean.


Erik Orsenna, who was born Erik Arnoult, is a French novelist who has developed a reputation as a talented satirist and author of witty fiction. He is best known for his Goncourt Prize-winning novel L'Exposition coloniale, which was translated as Love and Empire. Interested in politics—he was hired to be a speech writer for France's president, Francois Mitterand, during the leader's first term in office—Orsenna is well aware of his country's political and social history, which plays a key role in his prize-winning novel. Love and Empire follows the life of a short, dumpy man named Gabriel Orsenna, which suggests the character is an alter ego of sorts. An expert in rubber, the protagonist finds himself in various parts of the world as a consultant, researcher, and business and political advisor. This results in his winding up in some key points in French history, including in French Indochina, becoming a first-hand witness to crumbling French colonialism. The structure of the plot is very loose and allegorical, a technique that some reviewers found a little tiresome. For example, Anita Brooknerwrote in a Spectator review: "I was wondering nervously if L'Exposition coloniale would ever end." Other reviewers found much to praise, however. "This is a big book with small flaws," admitted Guy Mannes-Abbott in the New Statesman and Society,"‘facing life head on’ with a generous embrace." In his French Review assessment, William Cloonan felt that "L'Exposition coloniale exudes the vitality, the logical-illogic, the sheer fun of a Garcia-Marquez creation," and Times Literary Supplement contributor Barbara Wright described it as "a dazzling book, rivaling [Laurence Sterne's] Tristram Shandy."

In a different way, Orsenna also remarks on French society with his Grand amour, a somewhat fictionalized autobiographical novel about his years working as a speech writer. The "amour" he speaks of is the excitement one gets in working a job that is so closely associated with a world leader. As John Weightman put it in a Times Literary Supplement review: "His main theme is that proximity to power creates an intense erotic excitement, to which he himself was far from immune." Also, as Lucia di Benedetto related in her French Review assessment of the novel: "On one level, this novel satirizes the President of France and his oppressive egotism, the manipulative power of the media, and an era that no longer reveres words." Di Benedetto added: "On a deeper level, there also makes itself felt a sense of nostalgia, if not delusion," about being paid for a job that let him pursue his interest in words and their power.

While most of his writings pursue satire and comedy more subtly, with Histoire du monde en neuf guitares(History of the World in Nine Guitars) Orsenna lets his fantasies run wild as he writes an ode to the musical instrument described as a novel in which all sorts of musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and John Lennon, make an appearance. Michael Salkind in the Bloomsbury Review described the odd book as "a fun and quick paean to the guitar [that] … works well." Booklist contributor Ray Olson was enthusiastic about the book, praising it as "a legend about the power of music, man!"

Orsenna has also written nonfiction works, including travel, histories, and biography. Among his other works to be translated into English is André Le Nôtre: Gardener to the Sun King, which discusses the famous gardener who planned the landscaping around the palace of Versailles. "Orsenna, enamored by his surroundings and beguiled by the man who so many years ago devoted his life to them, offers an engaging tour," concluded a Publishers Weekly critic.



Atlantic, July, 1991, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review ofLove and Empire, p. 112.

Bloomsbury Review, November, 1999, Michael Salkind, review of History of the World in Nine Guitars, p. 22.

Booklist, August, 1999, Ray Olson, review of History of the World in Nine Guitars, p. 2022.

Economist, March 21, 1981, "French Books: Unhappy Families," review of Une comédie française,p. 107.

French Review, October, 1990, William Cloonan, review of L'Exposition coloniale, p. 208; May, 1995, Lucia di Benedetto, review of Grand amour,pp. 1124-1125.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of Grammar Is a Gentle, Sweet Song, p. 247.

Library Journal, May 15, 2004, Ann H. Fisher, review of Grammar Is a Gentle, Sweet Song, p. 116.

New Statesman and Society, February 7, 1992, Guy Mannes-Abbott, "Bounciness, Not Dialectic," review of Love and Empire, p. 38.

Publishers Weekly, May 17, 1991, review of Love and Empire, p. 52; June 21, 1999, review of History of the World in Nine Guitars, p. 59; July 16, 2001, review of André Le Nôtre: Gardener to the Sun King, p. 174; April 19, 2004, review of Grammar Is a Gentle, Sweet Song, p. 39.

Spectator, December 10, 1988, Anita Brookner, "Prize-winning Novels from France," review ofL'Exposition coloniale, pp. 39-40.

Times Literary Supplement, December 16, 1988, Barbara Wright, "Passion on the Rebound," review of L'Exposition coloniale, p. 1404; February 14, 1992, Barbara Wright, "Countin on Comte," review of Love and Empire, p. 24; January 28, 1994, John Weightman, "A Ghost at Court," review of Grand amour, p. 21.