David Diop received the international Booker Prize for “Brother of soul”


“JI am extremely happy to have won, it shows that literature has no borders,” novelist David Diop told AFP on hearing the news, deeming it “magnificent” that his translation allowed “the emotional charge which touched French readers” to be “extended in the English-speaking world”. Her second novel, soul brotherwon this Wednesday, June 2 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, has thus become the first French author to win this prize, awarded to foreign books translated and published within the year in the UK or Ireland. The translator Anna Moschovakis, also a recognized poet, shares with David Diop the 50,000 pounds (58,000 euros) coming with this prize, one of the only ones to reward the major role of translators.

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A dive into the Great War alongside the Senegalese Tirailleurs

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 combatants of this conflict and in particular to the 200,000 Africans who fought in the French army.

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

Indeed, Mademba’s death has convinced Alfa Ndiaye that there are no more laws. “In the world before, I would not have dared, but in today’s world, by the truth of God, I have allowed myself the unthinkable”, explains the Senegalese skirmisher.

Every evening, he comes out of the trench alone to infiltrate the ranks of the “blue-eyed” enemies. He kills one and cuts off his hand with a machete before bringing his trophy back to his trench.

At first, his superiors and comrades praise him for his bravery. But after the fourth hand, they worry. “At the seventh cut hand, they had had enough,” says Alfa Ndiaye. Admittedly, as the captain said, “the Negroes are savages, cannibals, Zulus,” but now we are afraid of Alfa, of his madness. He is considered a “devourer of souls”, a sorcerer.

Crazy, Alfa Ndiaye certainly is. But what about the madness of this war? When the soldiers revolt against the incessant and vain attacks imposed by their captain, the latter chooses seven soldiers at random, has their hands tied behind their backs and forces them to come out of the trench under enemy fire.

Sent back, Alfa Ndiaye will remember the last days in Africa. This results in moving pages, lost time of innocence. Going to war, he knew in advance that he would never return home. It is now in the mind (even if disturbed) that there is the only possibility of refuge.

It is the reading of letters from hairy people that inspired David Diop, lecturer in 18th century literature, for this novel.e century at the University of Pau. The author explained that he had tried “to adapt to French” for this text the rhythm of the Wolof language, spoken in West Africa and by the author himself. In fact, the rhythm of the sentences resembles a song. “I tried to build a language that reflects the thoughts of a person who thinks in another language,” explained David Diop.

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Extremely sharp translation work

Despite the “specificity of the context” which speaks more to French-speaking readers, the “issues of race-based domination and colonial violence, which exist everywhere in the world”, knew how to speak to the English-speaking jury, judge Ms. Moschovakis. “This story of war, love and madness has a terrifying power”, for its part estimated in a press release the president of the jury, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, telling that the “incantatory prose and the dark but brilliant vision” of the novel had “cast a spell” on all the members of the jury, “blown away”.

Faced with the impossibility of translating the pun into 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 publisher in France” (Le Seuil), before its publication in 2018, said David Diop.

The novelist finds it “quite interesting”, because “it translates well the will of the novel to suggest that war and its violence affect everyone, and that when the blood flows, it has the same color regardless of human beings “.

soul brotheralready distinguished by the Goncourt prize for high school students as well as the Swiss Ahmadou Korouma prize, won the bet against five other finalists: Argentina Mariana Enriquez, Chilean Benjamin Labatut, Denmark Olga Ravn, Russian Maria Stepanova and Frenchman Éric Vuillard. A total of 125 books were in competition this year for the international Booker Prize.

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David Diop received the international Booker Prize for “Brother of soul”