Jean-Christophe Rufin, Physician, diplomate and academician

 A.J. Fabre                                        May, 2014- 


Jean-Christophe Rufin is physician, writer, diplomate, academician and much more. His work is quitte remarkable, and even more his multifaceted personnality.  

Childhood and Youth  

Jean Christophe Rufin was born in Bourges, in the Maternity ward of Dr Malgras. This hospital is still visible at the corner of Boulevard de Strasbourg and rue Eugene Brisson, where now, stands the "Banque de France".  

As shows his birth certificate: "Jean-Christophe, Henri, Maurice Rufin, son of Marcel Rufin, born at Dannes, in 1911, Director of the Cher Veterinary Department, and Denise Bonneau, born in Bourges on June 8, 1927, no profession, daughter of Dr. Bonneau, practicing physician at Cours Anatole France in Bourges

The parents lived rue Emile Zola in Bourges but went into divorce , soon after the birth. This came, indeed as a huge sorrow for Jean-Christophe. From that familial tragedy, he kept for many years a bitter resentment towards his father and a strong attachment to his mother, Denise. Biographers will note that Denise had a keen interest in literature and quitte certainly i twas transmitted to her son. 

After the divorce of his parents, Jean-Christophe was raised at his grandparents. The grand father, Dr. Bonneau, was mayor of a nearby village, Allogny. According to Jean-Christophe, he was ahighly fascinating man : WW2 hero, he gave shelter to French Resistanrs helping them to cross the border standing at that time in Bourges between "free zone" and "occupied France". After few months he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to the sinister Buchenwald KZ. There, he could only survive by miracle : he came back deeply affected, for the rest of his life, from this gloomy experience.  

Throughout his childhood, Jean-Christophe lived with his grandparents : "I loved my grandfather with passion, although he did not give me much in return but I did not mind, I had no other choice. "  

The memory of his native town still stands strongly for Jean-Christophe : Bourges, great city of central France, has been home of many great writers. Among them comes in first place Alain Fournier, author of a masterpiece roman, "The Grand Meaulnes. Fournierwas born in a small village nearby, La Chapelle d'Angillon, and kept all his life a great attachment for Bourges. Thus, here are his first impressions when he comes back home after a trip to England : " I found back Bourges at about three o'clock in the afternoon. I had two hours to wait. I ate a pancake bought at the bakery Avenue de la Gare…It was a quiet Sunday afternoon of September, under a high burning sun of summer, but Bourges was sweet as spring. I took a lonely boulevard along which stands the garden of Bourges. It was all green, with a charming walkway vaulted by green branches and fruits. The benches were dusty. The allee mounted up to the Lycee and the the cathedral... "[1].  

Many other celebrities came from Bourges : George Sand, Vladimir Jankelevitch, John Calvin, Simone Weil, Antoine de Saint Exupery. Bourges, also, keeps a vivid memory from Alfred Stanke, Franciscan monk and German medical orderly, who helped and saved life hundreds of Resistants under Nazis occupation of Bourges[2].  

Jean-Christophe attended school at the "Petit Lycee" of Bourges, in "Tour des Echevins"[3], but, at age 10 yrs he left Bourges for Paris, where lived his mother. He went to the Lycee Janson-de-Sailly, former school of such celebrities as Sacha Guitry and Carla Bruni, then to Lycee Claude Bernard near the "Parc des Princes", the well-known football stadium. 

In 1970, Jean-Christophe entered University registering at the same time, to Faculte de medecine and to "Sciences Po", the great institute of Political Studies in Paris.  

In 1975, he passed brillantly the highly selective "Concours de l'Internat des hopitaux de Paris", becoming "Interne" in Hôpital Rothschild then Hôpital de La Salpetriere, great center of neurology and psychiatry.  

Rufin, In 1976, was drafted in Tunisia as "Medecin cooperant" : this first contact with "humanitarian medicine" had a lasting impact on the young physician.  

 Back to France, Jean-Christophe became, after his residency, "chef de clinique", then "medecin attaché des hopitaux" in several hospitals of Paris  and Nanterre. 

In 1994, Jean-Christophe became director of French Red Cross, then, in 1997, came back to hospital as head of the Psychiatric Department of hôpital Saint-Antoine but, in 1991, came a major change : Jean-Christophe Rufin decided to devote his life to humanitarian medicine.  

Jean-Christophe Rufin and "humanitarian medicine"  

After Tunisia and his 1976 experience , Jean-Christophe started a new career in NGOs ("Non-Governmental Organizations"), giving more than twenty years of his life to "humanitarian medicine" all over the world : Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Philippines, Rwanda and Balkans, among many others.

 Jean-Christophe Rufin first entered an Association called MSF[4] ("Doctors Without Borders"), founded by the future Foreign Affairs minister, Bernard Kouchner : he was sent to Africa then Latin America, ending up as Vice-President of the Association from 1991 to 1993. His very first mission had been in 1978, Eritrea where he met his future wife, Azeb.  

In 1985, Jean-Christophe became Medical Director of ACF[5] ("Action against Hunger"), founded by a group of French intellectuals : Françoise Giroud, Bernard-Henry Levy, Marek Halter, Alfred Kastler[6], Guy Sorman, and many others, journalists, writers and physicians.  

On February, 1980, ACF organized a "March for survival of Cambodia" gathering a lot of Paris "celebrités" trying to enter Cambodia with food convoys but, this time, Jean-Christophe did not follow. His last participation to NGOs actions took place in 1999, as Director of an association called "First emergency[7]

At that time NGOs began to be openly criticized for their methods and aso their results, regardless of the help they had given for so many years to all victims of war, poverty and hunger around the world.   

Jean-Christophe Rufin Diplomate  

A new career was started when Jean-Christophe Rufin became from 1986 to 1988, "Conseillier special" of the State Secretary of Human Rights, Claude Malhuret. After that, from 1989 to 1990, Jean-Christophe was appointed as Cultural Attaché at the French Embassy in Brazil. 

From 1991 to 2002, Jean-Christophe was lecturer at "Institut des sciences politiques" in Paris, then, in 1993, member of the cabinet of François Leotard, Minister of Defense, as consultan on North-South relations. This lasted two years and, during that time, Jean-Christophe maintained a  medical activity as hospital consultant. 

In 1995, Jean-Christophe Rufin was sent once more in the Brazil French Embassy, in charge, this time, of the relations within the "Nordeste" area. 

Between 1996 and 1999, he was appointed Research Director at IRIS[8], Institute of International and Strategic Relations. 

In 1992, Jean-Christophe Rufin was sent to Bosnia as French representative in humanitarian missions. There he could show his high diplomatic talents as he obtained the  release of a group of French hostages.  

In 1999, Rufin organized at the "Ecole militaire" in Paris a Seminar on "United Nations and Peace " and,in 2004, was elected member of the CAS[9] ("Council for analysis of societal problems"), with the mission "to help the govenement in choices and decisions on social problems". In this function, Rufin issued, in September 2005, a report on " positive discrimination ", denouncing among others the "biased" system of" admission into the French "Grandes Ecoles"[10], highest level of the French educative system.  

Shortly after, Rufin was dismissed but, in August 2007, he was given by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, the post of Ambassador to Senegal and Gambia. As soon as arrived, Jean-Christophe Rufin had the tough responsability to bring help to the French DGSE[11] forces , in their  search, of the al-Qaeda murderers of several French tourists in Mauritania. However, in December 2008, happened a diplomatic "quiproquo" : in a conference at the Embassy, Jean-Christophe Rufin had declared : "In Senegal, it is very difficult to keep secrets : everyone knows everything, or believes to know everything, and often ends up by telling just what you like ". This went so far as to launch a protest from the Vice-President of Senegal Senate who asked for official apologies. Jean-Christophe Rufin at once issued a communique explaining that all had only been " friendly joke" but, in june 2010, the ambassador had to leave …  

From 1993 to 1995, Jean-Christophe Rufin was Professor at Paris XIII University. He joined the CID[12] ("Joint Defense College") French institution in charge of advanced military education.  

In 2004, on request of the Minister of the Interior, Jean-Christophe issued a report, "Construction of  fight against racism and anti-semitism" defining three classes in antisemitism : the "abusers", the "manipulators" (ideologists, politicians and … terrorists) and, last but not least, the "facilitators", giving help to antisemitism by an indulgent silence. 

In 2005, Jean-Christophe Rufin was nominated as lecturer at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris and named honorary president of his association "Action contre la faim[13]" (ACF)

However, a year later, in 2006, Jean-Christophe gave an official released of his decision to now devote his life to literature.  

Private life  

A first marriage gave to Jean-Christophe Rufin a son, Maurice. In 2007 he remarried,  this time, with an Ethiopian girl that he had met earlier in mission. From this marriage, he got two daughters: Gabrielle  and Valentine.  

In present times, Jean-Christophe, a fanatic alpinist, lives as much as possible far from Paris, in Savoie, in Saint-Nicolas-de-Veroce, just in front of the Mont-Blanc.   

Jean-Christophe Rufin author   

With his very first publication, Jean-Christophe Rufin obtained a huge success from the public. Since that time, he has been publishing more than 20 books. For that, he has obtained three main Awards : the 1997 Prix Mediterranee", the same year, for his book, "L'abyssin", the " Prix Goncourt de la première nouvelle", in 1999,the"Prix Interallie" for "Asmara ou les causes perdues", and, finally, the famed "Prix Goncourt for "Brésil rouge" in 2001."  

To summarize, one could say that Jean-Christophe Rufin brings in his books a unique combination betwwen fiction and humanitarian essays.


"Humanitarian trap" ( 1986)[14]  

Quitte paradoxically, humanitarian organizations, supposed to bring help, are often in hands of local dictators. Should humanitarian missions collaborate and thereby endorse dictatorial regimes, or accept to leave the local populations to their unfortunate destiny?  

Thus is brought confrontation between humanitarism and "field realities ". Rufin asks the "real" questions : from where come underground revolutions?, how are born humanitarian organizations ?, what are the "true"  priorities for the Third World ?  

The book shows all internal dissensions among NGOs and also, at times, the unexpected influence of  NGOs on the local markets …. 

An example among many others : in Nicaragua, far from the angelic image given by the medias of the Western world, the "Sandinistas", too often, "hold a knife" to the neck of their country, taking control of all food supplies.  

In recent times, underdeveloped countries have  escaped to the tensions between East and West, but now, they have to face other problems … and, often, other pressures…  

" Geopolitics of Hunger -,[15]..  

 Hunger is no longer the tragedy it used to be, but, gradually, arrive all sorts of new crisis situations : precarious urbanization, lower income groups segregation and one of the worst tragedies of our timesthe, AIDS[16]

Thus the question : where are the real responsibilities of the local politicians?  

" Empire and the new barbarians, [17]  

The Western world is more and more in the situation of the Roman Empire when hungry Barbarians arrived from alll sides. A fracture line exists between "rich" and "poor" countries crushed by all kinds of pressures: demography, military "juntas" and, last but not least, local terrorism.

 This is truly " terra incognita "for the Occident : the greatest illusion would be to believe that poverty, chaos and conflicts can be any further kept far away … 

 " The Liberal Dictatorship [18]  

Liberal democracy, apparently weak and all threatened, is still powerful  under the disguise of a labile system, torn by internal divisions, the liberal democracy has survived two world wars, and many socio-economical earthquakes… 

Totalitarian systems indeed seem stronger than democracies, because their decision-making powers are concentrated in so few hands. However, during Cold War, some underdevelopped countries went communists,  as others used oil embargo to threaten Western world and some others organized a monopol for drugs, the poison acutely needed by all marginals in liberal societies.  

On top of this, came a dreadful threat from Islam with fanatics infiltrating eveywhere and ignoring all fronteers. High paradox : terrorism has become in some parts of Islam, just another business tool... 

Liberal democracies has no ideal to oppose, and, thus, keep in the front place the thema of the "human rights ". Despite all forms of revolt, democracy is still living : if it comes to die, it will not be from  revolutions but, rather from a lack of ideal.  

In fact, social rebellion is a true motor for democracy, feeding the system instead of eradicating its roots.  

" Humanitarian Adventure (1994)[19]  

Allthough personally involved in many ONG associations, Jean- Christophe Rufin keeps a critical look on humanitarian missions and their too often inconsistent management.  

"A leopard on the neck[20]   

Jean- Christophe Rufin tells us his own story : as medical student, he saw medicine as an Art rather than a practical technique, and he entered medicine as in a religion. However, we all know, life has not always the wonderful perfume of hope : projects are often hampered by reality. 

Humanitarian medicine, for Jean-Christophe, was a mean to obtain some reconciliation between ideal and reality even if dreams are often crushed by the heavy machine of international organisations. 

Jean-Christophe Rufin has also published two books in collaboration with other writers: ." Economy of civil wars" [21] and "Rebel Worlds "[22]

.2. Fiction books  

 Jean -Christophe Rufin uses fiction to explain the modern world. His novels are colourful, loaded with humanity and humanism but without any attempt of moralization, allthough lots of affection are hidden behind the lines. In fact, the most dramatic issues are often reported with a light touch of irony.  

" The Abyssinian [23]  

This book obtained the "Prix Goncourt de la première nouvelle" in 1997 with a total of 300,000 copies and 19 translations. 

The book brings the story of a French apothecary, Jean- Baptiste Poncet, living in the midst of 17th century, in Cairo. He wants to marry the French consul's daughter but instead is sent to Abyssinia to negociate a treatise with the Negus. Despite of his many adventures, he keeps a growing fascination for Orient.

 In all evidence, Ruffin knows well how to keep the attention of  his readers : he has, for example, a special  flair for pittoresque headings : " Last diligence for Solferino ", " Rock in Papua ", " Art glass " and there is suspense behind every line of his books. We meet politicians stirring dramas, bankrupted dictators lost in their empty palace, humanitarian activists isolated in a foreign country far from any real power.  

A piece of anthology is the  portrait of the old Emperor of Ethiopia, the Negus, Heile Selassie :"An immense famine was strikIng Abyssinia, but the highest pleasure of the Negus is to throw meat pieces to his lions. At the same time, skeletal children are living preys for hyenas in the deserts …" 

Topping the tragedy, the Negus will be soon murdered by a communist tyrant and  Ethiopia plunges in chaos.  

" Save Ispahan [24] 

Jean-Baptiste Poncet, the hero of "The Abyssinian", comes back : he tries to find refuge with his wife Alix and their children, in 1721 Ispahan, a city full of splendor and refinement. 

Then arrives a mysterious messenger who sends Jean-Baptiste in  search for a threatened friend. Then will come a breath-holding journey into Caucasus and Ural steppes where are living the frightening "khanat" tribes.

At the same time, Ispahan is besieged and will be sacked by the Afghan invaders. 

" Lost Causes[25]  

 In 1985, during civil war in Ethiopia, a humanitarian group settles in Asmara, in the heart of mythical Eritrea. 

There lives Hilarion Grigorian, a former arms dealer from Armenia who tries to fight his "ennui de vivre" by long discussions with the young physician in charge of humanitarian operations in his town.  

Through fiction, the book shows the difficult problems to which NGOs are faced : endorsement of local dictatures which means leaving the country to some harrowing fate or breaking off any ties with the local population?  

" Salamander [26]  

 The book intends to show an hidden face of the Third World, very different from exotic show-cases and common revolutionary myths. In vacation to Brazil, a young French girl discovers love, or rather said, the need to have some one to love, even if he is a banal seducer 

Brazil is in background, both repulsive and facinating, full of wealth and violence, highplace for all confrontations between North and South, riches and poors, blacks and whites... men and women.  

" Red Brazil [27], "  

This is the story of a little-known episode in French History when Admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon tried to settle a French colony in Rio de Janeiro, despite of the royal indifference of King Henri III and his court.. 

The book has been a world success : 700,000 copies were sold in France, translated in 23 countries. A film has followed, based on the story, co-produced by France, Brazil and Canada and set in Angra dos Reis, "the Bay of Kings", highly symbolic place : the Bay was discovered by Portuguese Gaspar de Lemos on January 6, 1502, "day of Epiphany", and from that comes the name of "Baía dos reis"  

" Perfume of Adam[28].  

In Poland, spring 2005, lives a young girl, "radical" ecologist, fighting for freedom of all captive animals. At the other end of the planet, a group of extremists also comes to conflict, but this is to fight overpopulation which is, as they believe, true cause  of all modern evils. They will lauch a "bioterrorist action and that means… spreading a new strain of cholera.

Between " thriller" and reportage, this novel explores the world of the so-called "fighting ecologies", all over the world, from American Indian territories to the " billionaires ghettos " of Geneva   

" Katiba[29] 

 The adventure begins in the Mauritanian desert. Four Italian tourists are murdered by " katibas ", the desert terrorists. 

Now arrives Jasmine : beautiful and enigmatic widow of a former Quai d'Orsay  diplomate. She still keeps mysterious powers in every country of the Black continent where she has traveled, loved and lived. 

According to Rufin, first-hand specialist in international diplomacy, there is, in Africa, a "four hands conspiracy", orchestrated by the the CIA, the US Central Intelligence Agency,  Algerian secret services, the French Quai d' Orsay and the Al- Qaeda.  

"Live in war" [30]  

A dozen of French top reporters bring the story that television and newspapers have no time or perhaps no real desire to tell us about war and violence : here is told the "true life" of all those who have to face the war everyday in their country and… survive against all logics.  

" Globalia" [31]  

In a land of the future, called Globalia, everything from the Past has been erased : humanity, sexual differences, social conflicts, aging : everyone and everything is under strict surveillance… 

However, Baikal, a young boy, twenty years old, refuses this life. In company of a girl friend, Kate, he decides to escape and arrives into the forbidden "non- area" where he is  soonly  arrested.

A strange market is offered In exchange of liberation : he is asked to return to the "non–area" and spread there terrorism and all malversations which, in fact, are needed by Globalia to survive. 

" Seven Stories from Afar[32]  

We travel from Mozambique to Mauritius Islands and from Central Asia to Dolomites with Jean-Francois Rufin ever present in the baskground. 


In September 2005, Jean-Christophe Rufin was appointed to the  CSA ("Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisual).  

He is a board member of the Express-Expansion Group, Institut Pasteur, France Televisions and OFPRA[33], the "Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons".  

Jean-Christophe Rufin has been member of jury in many national and international Festivals : " Prix Joseph Kessel", in 2007 and, the same year, "Monaco Prize of Documentary Films Festival ". 

Jean-Christophe Rufin has been made Doctor honoris causa" at the Laval University of Quebec and in 2006, at the Catholic University of Louvain. 

Jean-Christophe Rufin Academician  

After a highly successful career in Literature, Jean-Christophe Rufin was elected member of the "Academie française" on June 19, 2008[34].  

He was the second youngest member ever elected at the Academy and received the chair of the great Henri Troyat, Russian-born French author (1911-2007), biographer, historian and novelist. 

His reception speech can be found on Internet at the site :

In conclusion 

Jean-Christophe Rufin, man of multiple talents, physician, pioneer of humanitarian assistance but also writer, diplomate and world traveler: has had the rare privilege to live several lives, before being admitted, from his election to the French Academy, to immortality  


Jean-Christophe Rufin (born in 1952) is a French physician, diplomate,  world adventurer and author of a wide range of best-sellers : essays, romans, chronicles.

From his very first book, "The Abyssinian",Jean-Christophe Rufin obtained a huge success from the public. Since that time, he has published more than 20 books and obtained three great Awards : the 1997 Prix Mediterranee", the same year, for his book, "L'abyssin", the " Prix Goncourt de la première nouvelle", in 1999,the"Prix Interallie" for "Asmara ou les causes perdues", and, finally, the famed "Prix Goncourt for "Brésil rouge" in 2001."

To summarize, one could say that Jean-Christophe Rufin brings in his books a unique combination betwwen fiction and humanitarian essays.

JCR is former president of "Action contre la faim" and co-founder of "Medecins Sans Frontières". He was Ambassador in Senegal from 2007 to June 2010. He was elected member of Academie française in June 2008, the second youngest member ever elected. He has received the chair of Henri Troyat, Russian-born highly praised French author, biographer, historian and novelist.

In conclusion, JCR, man of multiple talents, physician, pioneer of humanitarian assistance but also writer, diplomate and world traveler: has had the rare privilege to live several lives, before being admitted, from his election to the French Academy, to immortality


. Pascale Frey, " Jean-Christophe Rufin, la tête ailleurs " (Site internet

. Philippe Perrier, " Jean-Christophe Rufin, romancier sans frontières ", (Site internet

. "L'ecrivain-medecin Jean-Christophe Rufin ambassadeur de France à Dakar " [archive de La Tribune] 

. "Rufin, si peu academique " (Le Figaro du 20 juin 2008, page 22). 

. " Jean-Christophe Rufin: Writing without borders" ( Profile in Paris Voice, 

. François Grunewald, "Economie des guerres civiles" ( International Review of the Red Cross, December 31, 1997). 



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[1] Alain Fournier Letters (September 23, 1905)

[2] A film has been made in 1967 by Claude Autant-Lara from Jean-Claude Toledano's book, "Le Franciscain de Bourges".

[3] Tour des Echevins is now Museum Esteve

[4] MSF : "Médecins sans frontières"

[5] ACF : "Action cotre la faim"

[6] Former Nobel Prize in Physics

[7] "Première  urgence : "Full emergency", humanitarian organisation founded in 1992.

[8] "Institut des relations internationales et politiques"

[9] "CAS" : "Conseil d'Analyse de la Societe"

[10] "Grandes Ecoles" : higher education establishments outside the main framework of French University system

[11] "DGSE":  Direction générale de la Sécurité extérieure

[12] CID : " Collège interarmées de défense" replacing the former "Écoles supérieures de guerre" and " Cours supérieur interarmées

[13] ACF : "Action against hunger"

  "Le piège humanitaire" (Ed Hachette- Pluriels 1986

[15] "Géopolitique de la faim" (Ed. PUF, 2004)

[16] AIDS : "Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome"

[17] "L"Empire et les nouveaux Barbares" (Ed. Jean- Claude Lattes , 1991)

[18] "La dictature liberale" (Ed. Jean- Claude Lattes , 1994)

[19] L"Aventure hulmanitaire"  (Ed. Gallimard, 1994)

[20] "Un léopard sur le garrot" (Ed. Gallimard, 2008)(also in " Folio" coll.)

[21] "Economie des guerres civiles"(Ed. Hachette, 1996)

[22] "Mondes rebelles" (with Arnaud de La Grange and Jean- Marc Rocker) (Ed. Michalon , 1996)

[23] "L'abyssin" (Ed. Gallimard, 1997)

[24] "Sauver Ispahan" (Ed. Gallimard , coll. Blanche and " Folio " , 1997)

[25] "Causes perdues" (Ed. Gallimard , 1999)

[26] "La salamandre" (Ed.Gallimard 2005))

[27] "Rouge Brésil" (Ed. Gallimard, 1998 Goncourt, also in " Folio)

[28] ",Le parfum d'Adam" (Ed. Flammarion, 2007)

[29] "Katiba" (Ed. Flammarion, 2010)

[30] "Vivre en guerre" (Ed. Phebus, 2003)

[31] "Globalia" (Ed. Gallimard, 2004)

[32] "Sept histoires qui reviennent de loin" (Ed. Gallimard, 2011)

[33] OFRA ,"Office francais de protection pour les refugiés apatries"

[34] 14 negative votes, 12 votes for Olivier Germain-Thomas, two blank ballots and one cross)


Date de dernière mise à jour : 16/06/2014

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