David Diop, author of At Night All Blood Is Black, is the first French winner of the International Booker Prize as of Wednesday 2 June. The £50,000 prize is to be split between Diop and Anna Moschovakis, who translated the book from French. The novel found immediate recognition in its home country, receiving the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens.
The rising fever pitch surrounding Diop’s second novel does not end here – as well as being shortlisted for ten prizes in France, winning the afore-mentioned prize alongside the Swiss Prix Ahmadou Korouma, and the Italian Strega European Prize, Diop’s second novel is also being translated into 13 different languages.
Born in 1966 in Paris, Diop was raised in Dakar, Senegal. Diop’s first book, 1889, l’Attraction universelle, was published in 2012, and the author has already begun his third novel which is to be released this coming summer.
At Night All Blood Is Black is a tale that focuses upon a Senegalese soldier, Alfa Ndiaye, fighting for France in World War One. Gorily illustrating the protagonist’s spiralling into a murky sub-life of madness following the passing of his childhood friend Mademba on the frontline, the novel depicts the mental unhinging as manifesting in Ndiaye’s violent aggression towards enemy soldiers.
Translated into English in 2020, Anna Moschovakis is, alongside being a translator, an author and poet herself. Her poetry collection You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake won the James Laughlin Award, and she has translated a number of other works from French.
The chair of the Booker prize judges, historian Lucy Hughes-Hallett, described At Night All Blood Is Black as “frightening – reading it, you feel you are being hypnotised.
[It’s] a story about war, but also about love, the comradeship of those young men who fight together and the extraordinarily intense relationships that are formed by people who are risking death alongside each other. Diop has done something very clever in creating a kind of incantatory language.
This book does what the best poetry does: [enter] the reader’s consciousness at a level that bypasses rationality and transcends the subject matter. Indeed, you are reading about horrible mutilations and a soldier going mad… but all the same, the whole tragedy relies on this dichotomy, of the awfulness of what you are being told and the beauty of how it is being expressed. There is a great deal of pleasure to be had from this novel.”
125 books were submitted to the International Booker Prize list this year, and many, according to Hughes-Hallet, examined colonialism or migration. Winning ahead of five other shortlisted authors, the list was “full of newcomers and independent publishers”. The remainder of the six-book shortlist can be found here.
Words by Lucy Dunn
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