The culture that is France

Asked at the Paris book fair last week which book had made the greatest impression on him during his life, Lefebvre told the interviewer it was “without doubt” Zadig et Voltaire – the name of a French fashion chain. “It’s a lesson about life, and I reread it pretty often,” said the politician, at the fair to publicise his own book, Le mieux est l’ami du bien, an exposition of his political views. He actually meant to refer to Voltaire’s celebrated philosophical novel Zadig, about a Babylonian man subjected to the whims of fate.

The video of his mistake has now been viewed almost 200,000 times, and the French literati have been quick to mock Lefebvre for his slip, suggesting other combinations of consumerism and literature – from The Girl with the La Perla to The World According to Gap, Thus Spake Zara, Waiting for Gaultier and Victor Hugo Boss’s Les Misérables – on the trending Twitter hashtag #bibliolefebvre.

…His mistake follows Sarkozy’s criticism of Madame de Lafayette’s The Princess of Cleves two years ago, which prompted a literary backlash against the French president. Sales of the 17th-century novel soared, public protest readings of the book were held and the 2009 Paris book fair sold out of badges saying “I’m reading La Princesse de Clèves”. It is too early to say whether Lefebvre’s appreciation will provide a similar boost to Zadig by Voltaire – or even to Zadig and Voltaire.

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