[The JRB Daily] ‘It had jangled our emotions and blown our minds’—David Diop and Anna Moschovakis win the 2021 International Booker Prize for At Night All Blood is Black

Image: International Booker Prize

At Night All Blood is Black, written by Senegalese–French author David Diop and translated by American poet and author Anna Moschovakis, has been announced as the winner of the 2021 International Booker Prize.

‘I am flattered,’ Diop said in his acceptance speech, ‘and I feel as though I am living in a dream—a waking dream.’

At Night All Blood is Black was inspired by Diop’s Senegalese great-grandfather’s silence about his experience fighting in World War I.

The International Booker Prize, which celebrates ‘the finest translated fiction from around the world’, is awarded every year for a single book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

Both novels and short story collections are eligible, and the contributions of both the author and translator are given equal recognition, with the two sharing the £50,000 (about R960,000) prize money.

The winner was announced by chair of judges Lucy Hughes-Hallett during a virtual celebration from Coventry Cathedral.

David Diop was born in Paris and raised in Senegal, and is the first French author to win the International Booker Prize. He lives in France, where he is a professor of eighteenth-century literature at the University of Pau.

At Night All Blood is Black is Diop’s second novel. The French edition, Frère d’âme, won the prestigious Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2018 as well as the Swiss Prix Ahmadou Koroum, and was shortlisted for 10 major prizes in France. It is currently being translated into thirteen languages and has already won the Strega European Prize in Italy.

Anna Moschovakis is a poet, author and translator, whose work includes the James Laughlin Award-winning poetry collection You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake and a novel, Eleanor: Or, 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.

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, Alfa Ndiaye, the protagonist, is alone in 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 was chosen from a shortlist of six books 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.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, chair of the judges, says:

‘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.’

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