At Night all Blood is Black

At Night all Blood is Black

David Diop’s second novel At Night All Blood is Black has been critically acclaimed worldwide. Not only has it won the International Booker Prize 2021, it has been shortlisted for ten major prizes in France, winning the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, the Swiss Prix Ahmadou Korouma and the Strega European Prize in Italy. It is currently being translated into 13 languages and was translated from French into English by Anna Moschovakis. Diop is the first French writer and the first of African heritage to win the International Booker Prize.

Born in Paris in 1966, Diop is a French author and academic, specializing in Eighteenth-Century French and Francophone African Literature at the University of Pau. He spent the majority of his childhood in Senegal before returning back to France to study. Diop’s first novel, 1889, l'Attraction universelle, is a work of historical fiction and describes the experiences of 11 members of Senegalese delegation to the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

At Night all Blood is Black, or Frère d'âme (the original French title which more or less means ‘soul brother’), is the story of two Senegalese tirailleurs fighting for France during the First World War. Alfa Ndiaye, the main character, describes his descent into madness and brutality following the death of his childhood friend, his “more-than-brother”, named Mademba Diop. Mademba, with his stomach pouring out of him, begs Alfa to kill him to end his suffering. Alfa refuses but is later consumed with guilt and turns this guilt into terrifying savagery which scares even his own comrades.

David Diop was inspired to write the book by his Senegalsese great-grandfather who never spoke about his experiences fighting in the war. Diop told the BBC, “That is why I was always very interested by all the tales and accounts which gave one access to a form of intimacy with that particular war”.

Diop’s narrative is mesmerising, terrifying and beautifully poetic. Lucy Hughes-Hallet, chair of the International Booker Prize judges states: “The book is frightening – reading it, you feel you are being hypnotised. Your emotions are all jangled up, your mind is being opened to new thoughts”.

John Self, writing for The Guardian, accounts for the excellence of this novel: “As Ndiaye’s very identity begins to crack and slip, the brilliance of David Diop’s conceit becomes clear and the reader must reconsider the story backward as well as forward. That is why it has appealed to so many prize juries: it rewards rereading, which recasts the violent opening chapters in a new, even darker light”.

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