French author David Diop’s At Night All Blood is Black, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis, has won the 2021 International Booker Prize.
The announcement was made by jury chair Lucy Hughes-Hallett on Wednesday, at a virtual programme which was streamed across the Booker Foundation’s official Facebook and YouTube pages.
David Diop, 55, is the first French author to win the prize, which is awarded to books translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland.
“My novel is a story of two rural young African men who were caught up in the war in France, the war in Europe. The First World War, it’s an industrial war and they’re young people who came from the countryside. I wanted to show what a shock it could have been for two such young men to come to Europe to fight in this atrocious war, which took so many lives,” said David Diop while describing his book during the announcement.
The £50,000 prize will be split equally between the writer and the translator, giving them equal recognition. Anna Moschovakis, who is a well-known poet, has written a novel and her translations from the French include Annie Ernaux’s The Possession, and Bresson on Bresson.
In her speech, jury chair Lucy Hughes-Hallett said, “This story of warfare and love and madness has a terrifying power. The protagonist is accused of sorcery, and there is something uncanny about the way the narrative works on the reader. We judges agreed that its incantatory prose and dark, brilliant vision had jangled our emotions and blown our minds. That it had cast a spell on us.”
The judging panel also included: journalist and writer Aida Edemariam; Man Booker shortlisted novelist, Neel Mukherjee; Professor of the History of Slavery, Olivette Otele; and poet, translator and biographer, George Szirtes.
At Night All Blood is Black
According to a news release posted by the Booker Foundation on its website, Diop’s novel “portrays a young man's descent into madness and tells the little-heard story of the Senegalese who fought for France on the Western Front during World War I. After his best friend is mortally wounded in combat, Alfa, the protagonist, is alone amidst the savagery of the trenches, far from all he knows and cherishes. He throws himself into fighting with renewed vigour, but soon begins to frighten even his own comrades.”
At Night All Blood is Black is Diop’s second novel. He was raised in Senegal and his great-grandfather had fought in the First World War. This novel can be read as a tribute to the 200,000 Africans who had fought in the French army during the war.