By Nehru Odeh
The International Booker Prize 2021 has been awarded to David Diop for his novel, ‘At Night All Blood Is Black’ (translated from French by Anna Moschovakis and published by Pushkin Press.
The £50,000 prize will be split between author and translator, thus giving both of them equal recognition.
Diop is the first French author to win the International Booker Prize.
The winner was announced by chair of the judges, Lucy Hughes-Hallett on Wednesday evening during a virtual celebration from Coventry Cathedral in the United Kingdom.
The French edition of the novel, Frère d’âme, received the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2018.
The novel was chosen from a shortlist of six books during a lengthy and rigorous judging process, by a panel of five judges, chaired by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, cultural historian and novelist.
The 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 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.
The New York Times described At Night All Blood Is Black as ‘more than a lone man’s spiritual burden. Diop realizes the full nature of war — that theatre of macabre and violent drama — on the page.
He takes his character into the depths of hell and lets him thrive there.’
The Spectator said ‘with elegant brevity, Diop presents a world with no firm dividing line between courage and madness, murder and warfare; the most dedicated killers are awarded the Croix de Guerre.’
Angelique Chrisafis commented in The Guardian that the novel ‘addresses a story woefully absent from French history books.’
Born in 1966 in Paris, Diop was raised in Senegal, but now lives in France, where he is a professor of 18th-century literature at the University of Pau.
At Night All Blood is Black is his second novel. It was shortlisted for 10 major prizes in France and won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens as well as the Swiss Prix Ahmadou Korouma.
It is currently being translated into 13 languages and has already won the Strega European Prize in Italy.
Anna Moschovakis is a poet, author and translator, whose works include the James Laughlin Award–winning poetry collection You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake and a novel, Eleanor: The Rejection of the Progress of Love.
Her translations from French include Albert Cossery’s The Jokers, Annie Ernaux’s The Possession, and Bresson on Bresson.