PEN World Voices Festival: Adam Gopnik apologizes to France on behalf of Canada.

Originally set to kick off today, PEN added an extra tidbit to its program last week: a talk between Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Le Clézio is very much a world voice. “You don’t belong to a nationality, you belong to the language in which you write,” he said to Gopnik, citing Beckett as an important example and saying that, in his writing, his French owes an enormous debt to the creole of Mauritius (he’s both a Frenchman and a Mauritian). But French authors, it seems, are not his favorite: His writing is more influenced by what he calls “Jewish New York,” and American literature in general: J.D. Salinger and Faulkner are among his favorites.

“I very much like the New World,” said Le Clézio, who was born in the South of France, somewhere he didn’t feel entirely at home. He spoke of his time growing up in France under the shadow of the Second World War; American soldiers would come through his village, giving out chewing gum and cans of SPAM. He didn’t remember the Canadian forces quite so fondly: A bomb had gone off next to him, dropped, he later learned, by Canadians on the occupying German forces. “We apologize,” said Gopnik, smiling.

Throughout the evening, Le Clézio spoke of the importance of having a whole world in which to read and write, not only to escape insularity, but for simpler reasons, too. His favorite place to read is sitting in the sunshine, on a beach: “I could not do that in Paris” he said, “and in London, I would have to do that under an umbrella.”