September 19, 2021

David Diop, the first French author to win this award

The French novel Soul brother won, on Wednesday 2 June, the international version of the prestigious British literary prize Booker Prize, which rewards both its author David Diop and its British translator Anna Moschovakis. David Diop, 55, thus became the first French author to win this prize, awarded to foreign books translated and published during the year in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

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“I am extremely happy to have won, it shows that literature has no borders”, said the novelist, judging ” magnificent “ that its translation allowed “The emotional charge that touched French readers” to be “Extended in the English-speaking world”.

The translator Anna Moschovakis, also a recognized poet, shares with Mr. Diop the 50,000 books (58,000 euros) that come with this prize, one of the few to recognize the major role of translators.

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Tribute to the fighters of the great war

This second novel by David Diop, who was raised in Senegal and whose great-grandfather fought during the great war, can be read as a tribute to the fighters of this conflict and in particular to the 200,000 Africans who fought in the French army.

The narrator, Alfa Ndiaye, is a Senegalese tirailleur. During an assault, his companion in arms and childhood friend is seriously injured. He begs his friend to finish him off but he cannot bring himself to do so. The book tells of Alfa Ndiaye’s attempt to redeem his companion, who died in terrible suffering.

Despite the “Context specificity” which speaks more to French-speaking readers, “Issues of racial domination and colonial violence, which exist all over the world”, spoke to the English-speaking jury, judge Mme Moschovakis.

“This story of war, love and madness has terrifying power”, said in a statement the president of the jury, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, saying that the “Incantatory prose and dark but brilliant vision” of the novel had “Cast a spell” to all members of the jury, “Blown away”.

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“When the blood flows, it has the same color”

Faced with the impossibility of translating the play on words in the French title, Anna Moschovakis titled the English version At Night All Blood is Black (“At night all blood is black”). This sentence taken from one of the first chapters of the novel had already been mentioned as a potential title “With my editor in France” (Le Seuil), before its publication in 2018, confided Mr. Diop.

The novelist finds it “Quite interesting”, car “It reflects the novel’s desire to suggest that war and its violence affect everyone, and that when blood flows, it has the same color regardless of human beings”.

Soul brother, already distinguished by the Goncourt prize for high school students, as well as the Swiss Ahmadou Kourouma prize, won the bet against five other finalists: the Argentinian Mariana Enriquez, the Chilean Benjamin Labatut, the Danish Olga Ravn, the Russian Maria Stepanova and the French Eric Vuillard. A total of 125 books were competing for the Booker Prize International this year.

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The World with AFP