American Novelist Becomes French Citizen

By MARIE-LAURE COMBES
The Associated Press
Friday, March 9, 2007; 4:29 PM

PARIS -- American novelist Jonathan Littell, whose award-winning, 900-page World War II opus is written in French, has been granted French nationality.

Littell was officially granted French citizenship on Wednesday, months after he won France's most prestigious literary award, the Goncourt Prize, for "Les Bienveillantes," or "The Kindly Ones," last November, Le Figaro newspaper reported Friday.

Littell had already made two unsuccessful attempts to obtain French citizenship before his best-selling book was published last August.

But French authorities refused both applications because Littell _ a former humanitarian aid worker and the son of American spy novel writer Robert Littell _ did not meet a condition stipulating that applicants must live in the country for at least six months a year. Littell lives in Barcelona, Spain, with his two children and their Belgian mother.

It was a meeting with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin following the publication of "The Kindly Ones" that put the author's application back on track. With Villepin's chief of staff personally backing the application, authorities made use of an obscure article of the nationality code allowing for French speakers whose "meritorious actions contribute to the glory of France" to be granted citizenship.

Under French law, Americans who become French are allowed to keep their American citizenship.

"The Kindly Ones," Littell's second book, is a first-person account of the Nazis' murderous campaign in Eastern Europe as told by former SS officer Maximilien Aue.

Littell was born in 1967 into a literary family. His father, Robert Littell, is known for such spy novels as "Legends" and "An Agent in Place." At age 20, Jonathan Littell published his first book, an unsuccessful science fiction novel called "Bad Voltage." It was written in English.

After graduating from Yale University, Littell worked for a French humanitarian aid organization in Bosnia, Chechnya and Congo. The horrors he witnessed in those war-ravaged lands partly inspired "The Kindly Ones," Littell has said. He chose to write the book in French as a tribute to two of his favorite authors, Stendhal and Gustave Flaubert.

The book's English translation is to be published in the United States in 2008 by HarperCollins, which won the rights to the book in an extensive bidding war.

© 2007 The Associated Press