Winner of the 2021 International Booker Prize. A hypnotic, heartbreaking rendering of a mind hurtling towards madness, shattered by grief and the horror of war. Translated by Anna Moschovakis.

Alfa and Mademba are two Senegalese soldiers fighting in the Great War, dutifully climbing out of their trenches to attack whenever the whistle blows. Then Mademba is mortally wounded, and dies in a shell hole with his belly torn open. Without his more-than-brother, Alfa is alone and lost amidst the savagery of the conflict. He devotes himself to the war, to violence and death, but soon begins to frighten even his own comrades in arms. How far will Alfa go to make amends to his dead friend?

The 2021 International Booker Prize
Published by
Pushkin Press
Publication date

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David Diop

David Diop

About the Author

David Diop was born in Paris and grew up in Senegal. He now lives in France, where he is a professor of 18th-century literature at the University of Pau.
More about David Diop
Anna Moschovakis

Anna Moschovakis

About the Translator

Anna Moschovakis is a poet, author and translator. Her works include the award-winning poetry collection You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake
More about Anna Moschovakis

What David Diop said about At Night All Blood is Black

‘It’s an honour for me to see At Night All Blood is Black alongside 12 other novels of such excellent quality, from all over the world. This distinction will give the opportunity for readers to discover my novel who might never have encountered it otherwise. 

In writing At Night All Blood is Black I wanted to allow the reader to inhabit the mind of a young African man, to give them unfiltered access to his experience of war. The choice of a stream-of-consciousness narrative allowed me to amplify the internal voice of this young man who, like all his African brothers-in-arms during the French colonial period, had no way of making himself heard.’

Read the full interview here

‘[Winning the International Booker Prize] did bring my work as a novelist to the attention of a much bigger audience around the world — something that makes me very happy, as it’s allowed me to interact with readers from a multitude of different cultural backgrounds.’

Read the interview here

David Diop

I wanted to allow the reader to inhabit the mind of a young African man, to give them unfiltered access to his experience of war

What the judges said

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, International Booker Prize Judge

‘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. It is an extraordinary piece of narrative, very powerful, very compelling. The protagonist is accused of sorcery and all of us, we judges, did feel this book had somehow put a spell on us. It is that hypnotically compelling.’

‘It’s a story about war, but also about love, the comradeship of those young men who fight together and the extraordinarily intense relationships that are formed by people who are risking death alongside each other. It is also a story about language – the protagonist does not speak much French, so it is a story written in French, which we read in English, about a man thinking in Wolof. Diop has done something very clever in creating a kind of incantatory language that somehow conveys that sense of what it is like to think outside your own language, as it were.’

‘This book does what the best poetry does, entering the reader’s consciousness at a level that bypasses rationality and transcends the subject matter. So yes indeed, you are reading about horrible mutilations and a soldier going mad… but all the same, the whole tragedy relies on this dichotomy, of the awfulness of what you are being told and the beauty of how it is being expressed. So there is a great deal of pleasure to be had from this novel.’

Its incantatory prose and dark brilliant vision had jangled our emotions and blown our minds... it cast a spell on us.

What the critics said

Malcolm Forbes, Star Tribune

‘Diop’s dark fable isn’t all blood and guts. His protagonist takes time out to reflect on the village life he left behind, and his relationship with family, friends and the woman he loved. But it is the scenes of mayhem and the portrayal of delusion that have the biggest impact. Employing language that is, by turn, visceral and lyrical, Diop tells a devastating story of loss and inhumanity while enlarging our understanding of the war to end all wars.’

John Self, The Guardian

‘The International Booker prize winner is a brilliant, shifting tale of a Senegalese soldier’s descent into madness…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. If the measure of a book’s success is to be quite unlike anything else, then At Night All Blood Is Black deserves the bouquets and trumpets after all.’

Jessi Jezewska Stevens, Foreign Policy

‘As in many of the best novels of active combat, such as Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 or Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk, Diop accentuates tragedy with bitter irony. Filtered through the perspective of an African soldier around 1914, this gallows humor lampoons not only the absurdities of war, but also racism. At Night, however, is ultimately more ghost story than hysterical picaresque. It is at once a deeply violent and gentle book. Blending modernist monologue with myth, Diop explores the disturbing outer limits of what we do to others, and of what war can do to us.’

Samuel Fury Childs Daly, Los Angeles Review of Books

‘A short, visceral book, it tells the story of an African soldier’s imbrication in World War I. Like many novels about the Western Front, it puts the horror of trench warfare front and center. The book’s incantatory gore makes it a critique of war along the lines of All Quiet on the Western Front, but in Diop’s hands something else is also going on.’

Gail Collins, New African Magazine

‘The book is short, almost novella-size, but it fully captures the violence and tragedy, unifying old African myths with the disturbing insanity of war in a story that whilst uneasy to read, fills you with emotion and, for me personally, a relief – that I have so far in my life not experienced war.’

At Night All Blood is Black

Ken Nwosu reads from At Night All Blood is Black