At Night All Blood is Black, written by David Diop and translated from French by Anna Moschovakis, is today, 2 June, announced as the winner of the 2021 International Booker Prize. The £50,000 prize will be split between David Diop and Anna Moschovakis, giving the author and translator equal recognition. The winner was announced by chair of the judges, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, this evening, during a virtual celebration from Coventry Cathedral, which was streamed across our Facebook and YouTube pages. The French edition of the novel, Frère d'âme, received the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2018.
Born in 1966 in Paris, David Diop is the first French author to win the International Booker Prize. Raised in Senegal, he 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 Diop's 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: 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 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.’
At Night All Blood is Black 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.
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.'
The International Booker Prize is awarded every year for a single book that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. It aims to encourage more publishing and reading of quality fiction from all over the world and to promote the work of translators. Both novels and short-story collections are eligible. The contribution of author and translator is given equal recognition, with the £50,000 prize split between them. Each shortlisted author and translator will receive £1,000, bringing the total value of the prize to £62,000.