At Night All Blood Is Black

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At Night All Blood Is Black
Frère d'âme (David Diop).png
First edition cover
AuthorDavid Diop
TranslatorAnna Moschovakis (English)

At Night All Blood Is Black (French: Frère d'âme, lit.'Soul brother') is a novel by French author David Diop. First published in French on August 16, 2018, by Éditions du Seuil, it won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens that same year.[1]

The English translation by Anna Moschovakis won the 2021 International Booker Prize.[2] It was published in the UK by Pushkin Press and in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.[3]


Alfa Ndiaye and his adopted brother Mademba Diop are Senegalese Tirailleurs fighting in World War I. One day, Alfa jokes about the Diop family’s totem, the peacock, stating that it is cowardly when compared to the Ndiaye family’s lion. Wanting to prove his bravery, Mademba charges into battle and is disemboweled. Mademba asks Alfa to kill him repeatedly, but Alfa is unable to do so. After Mademba’s death, Alfa captures German soldiers and disembowels them. When they beg for death, he kills them, granting them a mercy he was unable to give to Mademba. He then brings their severed hands and rifles back to camp.

At first, he is hailed as a hero for his bravery, but his fellow soldiers quickly realize that he is spiraling into madness and become afraid of him. After the seventh severed hand, the commander orders Alfa to take one month’s leave. While being treated in a psychiatric hospital by Dr. François, Alfa reminisces about his childhood and life in Senegal. He buries his collection of mummified hands, then rapes and kills Dr. François’s daughter.

The narrative abruptly shifts to recount a Senegalese story about a fickle princess and a sorcerer without scars. The narrative meditates on the meaning of stories within stories and the difficulty of translation. The narrator speaks in the voice of Mademba, believing he is now living in Alfa’s body.

Critical reception[edit]

Critical reviews of the novel were generally favourable. RFI called the original book "incisive and scathing", noting Diop's "very direct" style.[4] Le Monde viewed it as a subversive story endowed with "undeniable literary qualities", appropriately published in time for the Armistice Day centenary.[5] Angelique Chrisafis in The Guardian said the book was "heartbreaking and poetic".[6] Suzi Feay in The Spectator wrote of the novel as "powerful" and "full of echoes and portents".[7] In The New York Times, Laura Cappelle praised the work for contributing to a "reckoning with colonial history in French fiction", and Chigozie Obioma described it as an "extraordinary" novel about a "bloody stain on human history".[8][9] Anna Branach-Kallas argued that the novel commemorates the contribution of African French Army soldiers in the First World War by stressing their vulnerability and their traumatic transformation on the front lines.[10] Mehrul Bari in The Daily Star wrote, "One can find here the classic idiosyncrasies of African stories—the charms, the wisdoms—most noticeably in the characterisation of Alfa, who resembles heroic, boastful narrators like The Palm-Wine Drinkard's, who are casually able to perform fantastical feats without a second thought." [11]

The novel was a 2018 finalist for the four major French literary prizes (Goncourt, Médicis, Femina, Renaudot).[12] On November 15, 2018, it was finally awarded the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in the second round of voting by five votes over Le Malheur du bas by Inès Bayard and La Vraie Vie by Adeline Dieudonné.[13]

The English translation by the American poet Anna Moschovakis was titled At Night All Blood Is Black. It won the International Booker Prize in 2021, making Diop the first French writer to receive this award.[14]



  1. ^ a b "2019.David Diop". Escale du Livre (in French). 2021-01-18. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  2. ^ Braun, Stuart (February 6, 2021). "David Diop wins International Booker Prize for 'At Night All Blood is Black' | DW | 02.06.2021". DW. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
  3. ^ Marshall, Alex (2021-06-02). "'Frightening' Tale of Senegalese Soldier Wins International Booker Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  4. ^ "L'écrivain franco-sénégalais David Diop remporte le Prix Goncourt des lycéens". RFI (in French). 2018-11-15. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  5. ^ "Le Goncourt des lycéens récompense David Diop pour " Frère d'âme "". Le (in French). 2018-11-15. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  6. ^ Chrisafis, Angelique (23 November 2019). "'There is a thirst for writers of mixed heritage': what is France reading?". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  7. ^ Feay, Suzi (21 November 2020). "A brutal education: At Night All Blood is Black, by David Diop, reviewed". The Spectator. Archived from the original on 20 November 2020. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
  8. ^ Cappelle, Laura (30 May 2021). "He Is Senegalese and French, With Nothing to Reconcile". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  9. ^ Obioma, Chigozie (10 November 2020). "In the Trenches of World War I, a Bloody Ritual Fueled by Guilt". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  10. ^ Branach-Kallas, Anna (26 February 2021). "Tirailleurs Sénégalais, Savagery, and War Trauma in At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop". Journal of War & Culture Studies: 1–16. doi:10.1080/17526272.2021.1891674. S2CID 233947389 – via Taylor & Francis online.
  11. ^ Bari, Mehrul (May 6, 2021). "At Night All Blood is Black: All that war leaves behind". The Daily Star. Archived from the original on 2021-05-05. Retrieved 2021-06-20.
  12. ^ "David Diop remporte le Goncourt des Lycéens avec Frère d'âme". LEFIGARO (in French). 15 November 2018. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  13. ^ a b "Le Goncourt des lycéens 2018 pour David Diop". Livres Hebdo (in French). Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  14. ^ a b "Booker International Prize : David Diop, premier auteur français à remporter ce prix". Le (in French). 2021-06-03. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  15. ^ "Le prix Patrimoines 2018 distingue David Diop". Livres Hebdo (in French). Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  16. ^ "David Diop remporte le Globe de cristal du meilleur roman 2019". Livres Hebdo (in French). Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  17. ^ "Prix Kourouma - Salon du livre de Genève Salon du livre en ville - 28 octobre au 1er novembre". Salon du livre de Genève (in French). Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  18. ^ "David Diop remporte le prix Strega Europeo 2019". Livres Hebdo (in French). Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  19. ^ Pineda, Dorany (2021-04-17). "Winners of the 2020 L.A. Times Book Prizes announced". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2021-04-17. Retrieved 2021-06-04.