David Diop, winner of the Booker Prize International for “Soul Brothers”

It is one of the holy grails of publishing. Achieve one day the prestigious British literary prize Booker Prize International, rewarding a foreign book translated and published in the year UK or in Ireland. This recognition seemed, by dint of time and repeated failures, inaccessible to French writers. This year, 125 novels from all over the world thronged the gate, vying for this award. Also, the chances of seeing a novelist from our region on the podium seemed low, even nil, as usual.

The surprise is all the more beautiful and pleasant. Selected among the six finalists with the Argentine Mariana Enriquez, the Chilean Benjamin Labatut, the Danish Olga Ravn, the Russian Maria Stepanova and the French Éric Vuillard, David Diop was legitimately distinguished by the jury for his book, published in France in 2018 , soul brother.

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It was published in the English language under another title At Night All Blood is Black), according to a sentence taken from the book. Title that Le Seuil had already considered, before opting for the magnificent pun, inspired by the formula “brothers in arms”, forged by Shakespeare, to translate the tragic promiscuity of the soldiers.

One of the most singular revelations of the start of the 2018 school year

One of the remarkable originalities of the Booker Prize International is to associate translators with award-winning writers. Also, the British translator, Anna Moschovakis, recognized poetess, will share with David Diop the €58,000 prize. “This story of war, love and madness has terrifying power”commented the president of the jury, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, saluting “the incantatory prose and the dark but brilliant vision” from David Diop’s novel.

soul brother had been one of the most singular revelations of the start of the 2018 school year. This second novel by a French writer, of Senegalese origin, professor at the University of Pau, resembled a fable or a tale, inspired by the adventures of his grandfather, Senegalese skirmisher, sent to the front of the Great War. David Diop stages two soldiers from the same village in Senegal. One of them, seriously wounded, urges his friend to finish him off.

→ REREAD. Senegal commemorates its heroic skirmishers

The witness of Calvary cannot bring himself to take action. He will live the rest of his days, haunted by the howls of pain of the dying man, imploring him to end it. Falling into madness, seized with a rage where guilt ties in with revenge, he cuts off the hands of wounded or killed German soldiers and brings them back to the trench, until an officer lectures him to remind him that “civilized warfare” prohibits mutilation…

African voices and views on the Great War

Written in the first person like a confession from the psychiatric hospital where he languishes, taking Heaven to witness, the unfortunate hero punctuates his short hallucinated story with a repetitive and hypnotic incantation, “by the truth of God”. The insanity of the character is only the echo of the pure madness of this war, approached from the side of the Senegalese skirmishers thrown into the front line, sometimes with their hands tied, like cannon fodder. In addition to the extreme strength and beauty of his novel, David Diop offered a new look at this tragic period and made African voices heard.

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David Diop, winner of the Booker Prize International for “Soul Brothers”