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Kuwaiti author awarded French badge of honor

By Ghadeer Ghloum

KUWAIT: The French Embassy in Kuwait has awarded on Monday renowned Kuwaiti novelist Taleb Al-Refai the rank of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters for his great contributions to building cultural bridges between the two countries. Refai, who carries the badge of honor for French Literature and Arts, is one of the most well-known authors representing Kuwait in international and regional literary conferences and summits.

Refai’s journey, which began in the mid-70s, was mostly dedicated to highlighting social activism among the Kuwaiti community and the struggles of Arab and foreign workers in Kuwait, in addition to discussing women’s issues and gender relations. He is one of the few Arab literates who write according to the school of auto-fiction, in which writers use their own names and memoirs in their works. This became one of the main reasons behind translating many of his works to multiple languages such as: French, English, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Turkish and Urdu.

Refai has become a household name in France since 2016, where he is described as the one of the most important Arab writers connecting the French people to Arab and Kuwaiti culture. All of Refai’s novels were published by the French publishing house “Actes Sud”, which has great interest in Arab contemporary literature. Some of his work includes:

“Ici Meme” (published in 2016), “L’Ombre du Soleil”(2018), “Al-Najdi le Marin” (2020), “Hapy” (2022), “Kidnapping” (2023) and “Taupe” (still in production).

French Ambassador Claire Le Flecher

Before the ceremony, Refai received letters from the French minister of culture and the country’s envoy in Kuwait, recognizing the role his works play in bringing Kuwaiti and Arab culture closer to French readers. In 2021, the Kuwaiti author was crowned as the “Cultural Personality of the Year” at the Sharjah International Book Fair, as well as winning the country’s encouragement award twice. He was also honored among the talented characters in GCC countries and was rewarded in the Republic of Egypt for his literary achievements.

During the ceremony, French Ambassador Claire Le Flecher warmly welcomed Refai and his family and friends and said that this ceremony was in honor of Refai’s translated works and the role he played in the cultural exchange between France and Kuwait. “Born in 1958, you completed your Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Kuwait University, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Kingston University in London,” she said. Flecher added that Refai is the only Kuwaiti novelist to have his work translated to French.

Refai said the Arabic language played a major role in his journey up to the moment he received the award. He also expressed his gratitude for being honored by the ambassador as well as the French Counselor for Cooperation and Cultural Affairs, Benoit Cathala, in the presence of his family, friends and colleagues. His daughter, Fadia Al-Refai, who is also the vice president of Kuwait International Law School, said she was proud of her father being awarded such rank.

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