By Tom Horton, PA
David Diop has become the first French author to win the International Booker Prize with At Night All Blood Is Black.
Alongside translator Anna Moschovakis, he was named as the winner of the award in a virtual ceremony at Coventry Cathedral on Wednesday.
The pair will share £50,000 prize money.
At Night All Blood Is Black tells the story of a young Senegalese soldier’s descent into madness as he fights for France on the Western Front during the First World War.
The novel is the second by Diop, who lived in Senegal during his youth.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, chair of the judges, said: “This story of warfare and love and madness has a terrifying power.
“The protagonist is accused of sorcery, and there is something uncanny about the way the narrative works on the reader.
“We judges agreed that its incantatory prose and dark, brilliant vision had jangled our emotions and blown our minds. That it had cast a spell on us.”
The book is “frightening”, she said, adding: “Reading it, you feel as though you are being hypnotised.”
Hughes-Hallett said the book included interesting reflections on colonialism.
“I think that it’s easy and rather simplistic to think of the colonialised peoples and non-European people who became colonised by European powers, to think of them just as unwilling victims,” she said.
“But what Diop reminds us of, very interestingly I think and subtly, is that colonialism is not just about another country sweeping in and taking over the victim country, the subject country’s resources and its economy.
“It’s also about colonialising those people’s minds so that very young men in Senegal might feel a huge amount of loyalty to France, a country they have never visited, whose language they didn’t speak, and that’s an interesting and thought-provoking phenomenon.”
She added: “You have to read this book and you will come away from it changed.”
The judges, who considered 125 books, were in “great agreement” with each other, Hughes-Hallett said.
The International Booker Prize is awarded annually to the best single work of fiction translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland.
The Dangers Of Smoking In Bed by Mariana Enriquez, Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease To Understand The World, The Employees by Olga Ravn, Maria Stepanova’s novel In Memory Of Memory and The War Of The Poor by Eric Vuillard were also shortlisted for the prize.
Last year, the award was run by Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for The Discomfort Of Evening alongside translator Michele Hutchison.