David Diop becomes first French winner for WWI story


David Diop, a French novelist, on June 2, 2021, won the prestigious International Booker Prize for the books translated into English with his World War I novel ‘At Night All Blood is Black’.

The Paris-born writer became the first French winner of the prize in a ceremony which was broadcasted online from Coventry Cathedral in Central England. The prize is awarded for a book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

The winning book was first published in 2018 with the French title ‘Frere d’ ame’ (literally soul brother).

The translator of Diop’s book Anna Moschovakis has won the half $70,850 (50,000 pounds) prize. It recognizes the major role of translators.

The story has terrifying power: chair of the judges

The chair of the judges, Lucy Hughes-Hallet while talking about ‘At Night All Blood is Black’ said that this story of warfare and love and madness has a terrifying power.

She added that the judges, to determine the winner of the prize, agreed that its incantatory prose and dark and brilliant vision had jangled everyone’s emotions and had blown minds. The book had a cast spell on everyone.

‘At Night All Blood is Black’: What is the book about and what inspired it?

The novel written by David Diop tells the story of two Senegalese soldiers fighting for France during World War 1. When one, Mademba, is killed in the war, the other, Alfa, descends into ever greater madness and violence.

The author of the book, David Diop, who was brought up in Senegal (Africa), was inspired by the fact that his Senegalese great-grandfather had fought in the war but had never spoken about his experiences with anyone.

While commenting on the achievement, Diop expressed his happiness on winning the prize. He mentioned that it is very interesting and gratifying for him and it really shows that literature has no boundaries.

Recognising translator’s work:

The translator of the book, Anna Moschovakis, who won half the prize stated that she was taken by surprise by the latest achievement. She added that this will further increase the number of people who will encounter this book, which she feels fortunate to have been able to translate.

Moschovakis added that translation is neither one nor two people’s work but it is a sort of a collaboration between the author, the book, and the translator, which is always exciting.

Regarding the French title of the book “Frere d’ ame”, which is a play on words, as it sounds like “Frere d’armes” or brother in arms, Moschovakis mentioned that this was a beautiful pun, however, she opted to change the title in English because it will be impossible to actually translate.

Who is David Diop?

He is a French novelist and academic who was born in 1966 in Paris to a French mother and Senegalese father. David spent most of his childhood in Senegal and returned to France when he was 18 after finishing high school.

Diop specializes in 18th century French and Francophone African literature. Currently, he heads the arts, languages, and literature department at the University of Pau and the Adour Region.

Diop’s first book was published in 2012. It is a work of historical fiction titled ‘1889, I’Attraction Universelle’.

About International Booker Prize:

The International Booker Prize, which was formerly known as the Man Booker International Prize, has been awarded since 2005 when it was won by Ismail Kadare, an Albanian writer.

It is a sister prize to the Booker Prize which is awarded to a novel written in English while the international booker prize is a prize for literature in translation.

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