David Diop wins International Booker Prize with WWI story

LONDON (AP) — A harrowing but poetic tale of comradeship, colonialism and the horrors of war won the International Booker Prize for fiction on Wednesday.

“At Night All Blood is Black” by French writer David Diop beat five other finalists to take the 50,000-pound ($70,000) prize, which is open to fiction in any language that has been translated into English. The prize money will be split between the author and his translator, Anna Moschovakis.

The novel is narrated by Alfa Ndiaye, a Senegalese soldier fighting for the then-imperial power France during World War I, and charts his descent into madness on the battlefield.

British author Lucy Hughes-Hallett, who chaired the judging panel, said the “hypnotically compelling” book was both “appalling” and poetic, “entering the reader’s consciousness at a level that bypasses rationality and transcends the subject matter.”

“You have to read this book and you will come away from it changed,” she said.

Diop’s novel was chosen by majority decision of the five judges over contenders including Jewish-Russian family history “In Memory of Memory” by Russian writer Maria Stepanova and imaginative short-story collection “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed” by Argentina’s Mariana Enriquez.

Born in France and raised in Senegal, Diop teaches 18th-century literature at the University of Pau in southern France.

He is the first French author to win the prize, a counterpart to the prestigious Booker Prize for English-language fiction.

Diop’s novel, which was published in French in 2018, resonates with present-day debates about racism and colonialism.

Hughes-Hallett said the book didn’t win “because if speaks to the current conversation about racial politics,” but because “it spoke to us with the most power.”

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