Why it's time to add International Booker Prize 2021 winner, At Night All Blood is Black, to your reading list
The International Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary awards, with a mission to highlight great works of fiction from around the globe. It gives recognition to talented authors who enrich the literary world with their stories, as well as their translators who work hard to make these stories accessible to the English-speaking world.
Previous recipients of this coveted award are Han Kang for her haunting novel, The Vegetarian (translated from South Korean by Deborah Smith) as well as Jokha Alharthi for her novel that follows the story of three sisters navigating love and loss in the rapidly changing political and cultural landscape of Oman, Celestial Bodies (translated from Arabic by Marilyn Booth).
In June 2021, the International Booker Prize was awarded to French-Senegalese writer David Diop for his second novel, At Night All Blood Is Black, translated from French by Anna Moschovakis. He is the first French author to win the prize.
At Night All Blood is Black, published by Pushkin Press, sheds light on the forgotten history of World War I, where western powers brought men from their colonies in Africa and Asia to fight in the war. This novel follows the story of Senagelese tirailleur Alfa Ndiaye and his descent into madness after abandoning his friend and fellow comrade, Mademba Diop, mortally wounded and begging for death on No Man's Land.
The author's portrayal of Ndiaye's rage-fuelled mission to avenge his friend is visceral, harrowing and powerful, laying bare the horrors and cruelty of the great war from a more nuanced perspective that explores the often-neglected themes of race, exploitation and colonialism.
At Night All Blood is Black was selected by a panel of esteemed judges—including vice president of Royal Historical Society, Olivette Otele; poet George Szirtes; and authors Lucy Hughes-Hallett and Neel Mukherjee—from a shortlist of six books.
Take a look at the contenders, which also deserve spots on your reading list:
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez
Urban realism and horror meet in this must-read Spanish-language novel translated by Megan McDowell. Set in contemporary Argentina, unruly teenagers meet curses, witches and ghosts in this spine-tingling, fast-paced adventure.
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
This offering from Pushkin Press is a mind-expanding novel that poses fictional ethical dilemmas to the world's greatest minds, including Albert Einstein, Alexander Grothendieck, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg. Translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West, When We Cease to Understand the World blurs the line between genius and madness, right and wrong, fact and fiction in a thrilling, scientific world.
The Employees by Olga Ravn
This Danish sci-fi novel translated by Martin Aitken is a series of witness statements compiled by a workplace commission from the human and humanoid crew aboard the Six-Thousand Ship. Set in a future where Earth is a distant memory, The Employees artfully poses fundamental questions on what it means to be human while critiquing the logic of today's work and productivity culture.
In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova
An intellectual essay, travelogue, memoir, historical biography and work of fiction rolled up into one, Stepanova's In Memory of Memory—translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale—tells the story of a Jewish family and how they managed to survive the last century. It is interspersed with philosophical dialogue with writers such as Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag and Osip Mandelstam, on the meaning of memory.
The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard
Translated from French by Mark Polizzotti, The War of the Poor tells the story of people during the Protestant Reformation. Inspired by the gilets jaunes or yellow vest protests in France over the last few years, it is a historical novel that casts a light on social issues from the 16th century that continue to be discussed in the modern day.