13 May: On Which Side of the Frontline Does the Enemy Lie? - David Diop and Anna Moschovakis w/Phillipe Sands
When we imagine the experiences of those who fought in ‘The Great War’, whose perspective are we taking? Perhaps the majority of histories have taken a Eurocentric view. Not French-Senegalese author David Diop, whose unforgettable short novel At Night All Blood Is Black paints a starkly different picture of the brutal 1914-18 conflict.
Anna Moschovakis is a translator who is fascinated by the spaces where ‘languages, forms and subjectivities meet’ and has brought Diop’s elegant, spare prose to English-speaking readers as Diop conjures up a picture of fresh hell, and takes his lead character right into the heart of it.
The narrator, Alfa Ndiaye, is a Senegalese man fighting as an African legionnaire for the French. Having watched his friend die an agonising death, Ndiaye sets out for brutal revenge and turns himself into a merciless killing machine who takes to returning triumphantly from the frontline with the severed hand of one of his victims. At first, his French superiors are happy for him to ‘play the savage’ but before long his serial killing strikes fear even into his fellow soldiers’ hearts. He comes to be regarded even by his African colleagues as a ‘devourer of souls’. Diop spent much of his childhood living in Senegal before returning to France for his academic studies and this profoundly resonant novel is grounded in the worldview of Senegal’s Wolof people. From within this frame of reference, Diop explores whether the colonial image of African brutality actually begets violence.
In today’s session Diop and Moschovakis discuss this indelible novel with world-renowned author and international lawyer, Philippe Sands QC.
Shortlisted for The 2021 International Booker Prize