Rufin, Jean-Christophe 1952-

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Rufin, Jean-Christophe 1952-


Born 1952.


Physician and writer; French ambassador to Senegal, 2007—.


Médecins Sans Frontières (founding member).


Literary award, 1999, for Les causes perdues; Prix Goncourt and Prix Mediterranée, for L'Abyssin; Prix Goncourt, 2001, for Rouge Brésil.


L'évolution fixe, PUF (Paris, France), 1981.

Le piège, J.C. Lattès (Paris, France), 1986.

L'empire et les nouveaux barbares, J.C. Lattès (Paris, France), 1991.

La dictature libérale: le secret de la toute-puissance des démocraties au 20e siècle, J.C. Lattès (Paris, France), 1994.

Economie des guerres civiles, Hachette (Paris, France), 1996.

L'Abyssin, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1997, translation by Willard Wood published as The Abyssinian, Norton (New York, NY), 1999.

Sauver Ispahan: roman, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1998, translation by Willard Wood published as The Siege of Isfahan, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

Les causes perdues, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1999.

Rouge Brésil (title means "Red Brazil"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 2001, translation by Willard Wood published as Brazil Red, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.

Globalia: roman, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2004.

La Salamandre: roman, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2005.

(Preface) Denis Gérard, Ras Tafari, Haile Selassie: visages du dernier empereur d'Ethiopie, Archange minotaure, 2006.

Le parfum d'Adam (novel), Flammarion (Paris, France), 2007.

Un leopard sur le garrot: chroniques d'un medecin nomade, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2008.


Jean-Christophe Rufin is not only a doctor and writer, but also an adventurer by nature. His works of fiction draw on his experiences around the world with the humanitarian group Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). His novels are also heavily historical and full of fantastic adventures.

His first work of fiction, L'Abyssin, translated as The Abyssinian, won two prestigious French literary awards in the best first novel category. It is an adventure story and a romance with a plot line drawn from historical events of the late 1600s and early 1700s. The setting is Cairo, Egypt, during the time of Louis XIV, and Jean Baptiste Poncet is a poor young apothecary. The king in Versailles has given orders to send an ambassador to Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia). The French consul in Cairo is leery about making the dangerous trip himself, so he enlists the help of Poncet. Just before setting off on his adventure, Poncet falls in love with the consul's daughter, Alix, who gives him added incentive to return alive. Melanie Duncan wrote in Booklist that this novel is "rife with political, religious, and romantic intrigue," while Barbara Hoffert, writing in Library Journal, called it "a serious look at cultural differences." David A. Bell, reviewing The Abyssinian for the New York Times, found the story entertaining but commented that Rufin doesn't dig deeply enough into the historical aspects of the book and instead "guides the reader through a landscape too often marked by stereotype and cliché." Bell also found some of the historical details incorrect. Jonathan Keates of the Times Literary Supplement called The Abyssinian "an ambitious first novel, dashing and abundant."

The sequel to The Abyssinian is titled Sauver Ispahan: roman, translated as The Siege of Isfahan, and was published just a year later. This story takes place in the Middle East, and Rufin asserts that much of the plot is based on fact. After Poncet returned from his journey to Abyssinia, he eloped across the desert with the consul's daughter, Alix. Twenty years later they are living in Isfahan, the capital of Persia, and have a sixteen-year-old daughter. Poncet is happily practicing medicine and enjoying life when he hears that Peter the Great has imprisoned his best friend, Juremi, in Russia. Poncet must go to his friend's aid, and he again encounters many harrowing adventures—he is captured by nomads and sold as a slave, and he fakes his own death to avoid obeying orders from the Persian king. After saving his friend, Poncet must return home because he hears that Afghans have captured Isfahan and his daughter is to be sacrificed to save the city. Margaret Flanagan, writing in Booklist, called this sequel "exotic historical fiction." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated that the novel contains a "wealth of information about the politics and customs of the Middle East."

Both of these novels won acclaim for their style and historical setting, but a reviewer from Time International pointed out that some critics claim that Rufin "blurs the line between fact and his own imagination." In response, Rufin asserted, as quoted in the Time International article, that he does not write historical novels but historical adventures. He said: "Historical adventures look for holes in history—those places where we know in general what happened, but contain enough gaps and mystery to let fiction take command."

In 2001, Rufin was again awarded the Prix Goncourt, this time for Rouge Brésil. Another historical novel, Rouge Brésil is about the French colonization of Brazil in the sixteenth century. The story centers on two Brazilian children, Just and Colombe, who are searching for their parents. Meanwhile, they have been enlisted by the French to work as translators. As the children grow up, their sympathies lie on opposite sides of the colonization issue. Just becomes an influential figure in the effort to colonize the country, while Colombe works for the plight of the indigenous people of Brazil, the Indians. A prominent theme in the book is man vs. nature, and many critics have termed Rouge Brésil an "ecological novel."

Rouge Brésil was released in an English translation by Willard Wood as Brazil Red in 2004. While acknowledging the work's modern day applications regarding nature and ecology, a number of critics also responded to the novel on a more romantic level, equating it with those classic romances of the Middle Ages that featured knights and fair maidens and villains on the prowl who must be vanquished. However, those same critics had mixed reactions to the book itself. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews voiced the opinion that the work is "sprawling and slow, of interest mainly to those with a knowledge of the arcane history of French colonization." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded that the book "provides plenty of rousing action, yet somehow, despite the author's historical research, the book never rises far above melodrama"; the critic nonetheless dubbed it a "page-turner." Library Journal reviewer Misha Stone praised the novel for its "compassionately drawn characters, and mounting tension [that] create an atmosphere in which history and ideas come to life."

Rufin delves into something new with Globalia: roman, a dystopian novel set centuries into the future. Both language and thought processes have been standardized, and everything lines up in a rigid fashion that resembles an extreme version of France's regulations concerning the development of the French language, a similarity that makes Rufin's world all the more believable. In a review for Utopian Studies, Christian Moraru remarked that Rufin "sets in train a whole logic of his own to uncover the ‘dangers’ of globalized and oddly globalizing factional politics in general, and in particular that which renders Globalia/‘mondialisation’ and the project of a diversity-based, democratic cosmopolis irreconcilable."



African Business, February, 2000, review of The Abyssinian, p. 39.

Booklist, August, 1999, Melanie Duncan, review of The Abyssinian, p. 2028; March 15, 2001, Margaret Flanagan, review of Sauver Ispahan: roman, p. 1355.

Economist, June 21, 1997, "L'Abyssin, relation des extraordinaires voyages de Jean-Baptiste Poncet," p. R14; September 12, 1998, review of Sauver Ispahan, p. S17; November 10, 2001, "Men of Faction: New French Fiction."

Encounter, April, 1987, Jean-François Revel, review of Le piège, p. 40.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2004, review of Brazil Red, p. 602.

Library Journal, July, 1999, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Abyssinian, p. 136; April 15, 2001, Barbara Hoffert, review of Sauver Ispahan, p. 133; July 1, 2004, Misha Stone, review of Brazil Red, p. 74.

New York Times, October 31, 1999, David A. Bell, "The Envoy," p. 21; April 1, 2001, Paula Friedman, "Books in Brief: Fiction," p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1999, review of The Abyssinian, p. 48; February 12, 2001, review of Sauver Ispahan, p. 186; July 5, 2004, review of Brazil Red, p. 36.

Time International, December 14, 1998, "Two Beautiful Children," p. 56.

Times Literary Supplement, November 12, 1999, Jonathan Keates, "A Brace of Elephants," p. 23.

Utopian Studies, January 1, 2006, Christian Moraru, review of Globalia: roman, p. 248.


BBC News, (January 13, 2002), "French Doctor Wins Top Literary Prize."