Book Review: At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop – translated by Anna Moschovakis

Bonne nouvelle ! On June 2, David Diop became the first French winner of the International Booker Prize for his novel At Night All Blood is Black. The French-Senegalese author shared the 50,000-pound prize with Anna Moschovakis, who translated his work. The novel was a hit in France and won Le Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2018, a prize voted on by high school students.

Book Review: At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop - translated by Anna Moschovakis - 
Anne-Sophie Rouveloux - International Booker Prize

Frère d’âme, the original title, can’t be literally translated.

The meaning—a soul brother/mate—is in French very close to the word “arme” which means weapon.

The choice of At Night All Blood is Black as the English title clearly expresses all the beauty and violence of this short book.

Set in the trenches of WWI, the novel is narrated by Alfa, a “tirailleur sénégalais,” a Senegalese soldier from a corps of colonial infantry in the French Army.  Their captain calls them “Chocolats,” they call the white soldiers “Toubabs.” Without any consideration of a soldier’s race, however, the war regularly takes its toll. Despite this, Alfa seems to be more worried about the way his companions see him. He knows the other soldiers are afraid of him. They avoid him. Alfa is seen as a demon, a sorcerer.

Nobody understands why he keeps one hand of every dead enemy, as a trophy.
The reader does.

We gradually realize that the narrator is haunted by Mademba’s death. He was Alfa’s frère d’âme. Not a brother, but a close childhood friend. And Alfa, unable to mercy kill the badly wounded Mandemba, gradually descends into madness. 

The prose is violent, graphic.

If the images are sometimes disturbing, they are necessary to understand war. But beauty and melancholy can also be found in Alfa’s story, through his memories as a son, or when he discovers love. There is a constant tension between life and death. The repetitive language and the surrealistic ending also add a poetic aspect to this intense read.

David Diop’s third novel, ‘La porte du voyage sans retour ‘(literally ‘The Door of No Return Journey’) will be out in August for the famous “rentrée littéraire,” when France sees the release of around 500 new books in just two months. We can’t wait.  

Frère d’âmeAt Night All Blood is Black
– France – Le Seuil,
– USA – Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
– UK – Pushkin Press
Translator: Anna Moschovakis
Author: David Diop
Prize: International Booker Prize 2021

To buy this book:
Amazon – USA – ships internationally
Shakespeare & Co – France – ships internationally

MyFrenchLife has its own store on which shares revenue with independent bookstores.
Unfortunately, this book is not available on their stock list at this time.
– Here is MyFrenchLife on USA:
– And here we are on UK & EU:

A first. Why do you think this book in particular has been the first French author/book to win the International Booker Prize? Please share your opinions below.

Images credits:
David Diop – book cover – Anne Moschovakis via website.
Editor Note:
Felicitations to the author and translator of this book: Frère d’âmeAt Night All Blood is Black. Being the first French book/author to win the prestigious International Booker Prize in 2021 causes one to wonder what is different about this book as compared to other French books to have caught the attention and recognition of the Booker? We look forward to hearing your thoughts on this and we would love to hear from the Booker!

Further Reading:
1.  A French literary Season 
2. Literary translators: do they get the recognition they deserve?
3. Le Prix Goncourt
4. Alain Mabanckou: a journey through the world of French language
5. French Bookclub French Best Sellers and Award-winners 
6. David Diop wins International Booker for frightening ‘At night all blood is black’ 
7. Recently published: At Night All Blood is Black 


About the Contributor

Anne-Sophie Rouveloux

I was born in Limoges, a small city in the center of France but I spent most of my life in the Paris suburbs. I used to be a bookseller and a journalist for Page magazine and for the radio (Europe 1 and France Culture). Now, I live in Chicago but I always keep an eye on new French novels.

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  1. Keith Van Sickle Jun 9, 2021 at 10:09 AM - Reply

    Bravo for this very interesting review, Anne-Sophie! I look forward to reading this book. I’ve enjoyed nearly every book I’ve read that has won one of the various Goncourt prizes and I’m sure this will be another one.

  2. Keith Van Sickle Jun 9, 2021 at 10:14 AM - Reply

    A further comment…as to your question as to why this book won the Booker as opposed to other French nominees like Ernaux’s Les Années, that’s hard to say. French tastes and international tastes are not always the same, in literature as in other things. I remember with amusement how surprised my French friends were when Modiano won the Nobel Prize for literature, given his lack of popularity in France. I love Modiano and have tried to interest my French book club (all françaises) in several of Modiano’s works and have never had a single person express interest!

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