David Diop ‘ At Night All Blood is Black’

Booker International Prize 2021: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“All Night All Blood is Black”: In order of reading book number 1.

Captain Armand says that you need to rest. The captain says that you are truely very brave but also very very tired. The captain says that he applauds your bravery, your very great bravery. The captain says that you will be awarded the Military Cross like me, oh, you have it already. The captain says that you’ll maybe get another. So yes I know I’ve understood that Captain Armand no longer wants me on the battlefield. Behind these words relayed by the elder, military cross, chocolate, Ibrahima Seck I knew, I understood that they’d had enough of my seven severed hands brought back fromm the battle, yes I understood, God’s truth, that on the battlefield they only want temporary madness, mad from anger, mad from suffering, raging mad, but temporary, not continuously mad.

David Diop’s story of African soldiers in the first world war, bringing “savagery”to a “civilised” war as Alfa Ndiaye, the narrator theorises, the enemy over there is particularly afraid of the African’s savagery as his french commanders tell him proudly until he becomes really savage. You can go too far, he learns, in this “civilised” war, as illustrated in the opening quote.

David Diop tells us of Alfa Ndiaye, a Senagaleese soldier fighting in the trenches for France and of his more-than-brother, Mademba Diop who dies in no man’s land next to Alfa with his insides on the outside, begging Alfa to finish him but Alfa can’t. So begins this story of Africans in the trenches, with the author telling the story through Alfa who is haunted and influenced by Mademba, David Diop’s namesake. Mademba is killed in noman’s land by an enemy from across the lines who pretending to be dead suddenly pounces and kills him. Alfa takes this up as a modus operandi, lying in wait after the battle, slowly killing stragglers, severing a hand from each victim and bringing them back as trophies. We slowly learn of Alfa’s life in Africa and his relationship to Mademba and by the end of the book we no longer know which of the two of them remains in Alfa’s body, as Alfa says:

I loved Mademba, my more-than-brother. God’s truth I loved him so much, I was sonafraid he would die, I so wanted us to return together safe and sound to Gandiol that I would do anything to keep him alive.

This winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens has got to be one of my favourites, a fresh view on the madness of war.

First Published in French as “Frère d’âme” in 2018 by Le Seuil.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

le Capitaine Armand a dit que tu devais te reposer. Le capitaine dit que tu etais vraiment très brave mais très très fatigué aussi. Le capitaine a dit qu’il salue ton courage ton très très grand courage. Le capitaine a dit que tu allais avoir la croix de guerre comme moi, ah tu l’as deja. Le capitaine a dit que tu allais en avoir peut-être une autre. Alors oui je sais, j’ai compis que le capitaine Armand ne voulait plus de moi sur le champ de bataille. Derriere les mots rapportés par l’ainé, croix de guerre, chocolat, Ibrahima Seck j’ai su, j’ai compris qu’on en avait assez de mes sept mains tranchées rapportées chez nous, oui j’ai compris par la verité de dieux que sur le champ de battaille qu’on ne veut que de la follie passagère, des fous de rage, des fous de douleur, des fous furieux, mais temporaire, pas de fou en continue.

J’aimais Mademba mon plus-que frère. Par la verite de Dieux je l’aimais tellement, j’avais tellement peur qu’il meurt, je souhaitais tellement que nous rentrions sain et sauf tous les deux à Gandiol, j’étais prêt a tout pour qu’il reste en vie.

Franz Bartelt ‘Ah les braves gens’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 4

Sites to visit linked to this proud event unfortunately now cancelled.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai des Polars In order to support this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed thrillers and propose my winner before the official announce on the 4th of April.

In order to reach the largest readership possible for this attempt, I have created a website to publish my six articles and to propose my winner ****in French*** please go to my French website and don’t hesitate to make it viral

All work deserves wages, you payed the husband I suppose. — that’s to say that him, he breeds rabbits. He was supposed to pay me with rabits. A free rabbit every week for a year. That only partly satisfied me. I don’t particularly like rabbit. So when I caught the woman red handed, well you can imagine —, she proposed to buy my silence, payment in kind. I was weak enough to accept. — You betrayed your client? You broke the bond of trust? That’s outrageous! — First off the husband deserved to be cheated on. He’s a nasty piece of stuff. What’s more the woman was more appealing than the rabbit. So let’s not over dramatise. That day I made three people happy: the husband, the wife and myself. I saved their marriage.***

Bartelt has created small town France in the imaginary town of Puffigny with the outsider, Julius Dump, breaking down just out of town in his yellow Cadillac at the start of the book and being brought into town on the back of Polnabébé’s moped. Polnabébé, who can’t stop talking but who takes him to the local Bistro where he organises for Dump’s Cadillac to be repaired and finds him somewhere to stay. Everything in Puffigny is centred around the Bistro, as we later learn if you want to get reception for your cell phone you need to catch a bus to the neighbouring town. At the Bistro Polnabébé tells Dump about the town:

I do my shopping in Puffigny, because it’s closest. Between you and me, I take the opportunity to oil my throat at the “bistrot de la gare”. You hear all sorts at Gromard’s, there’s always someone there. A bistro is for dropping by, but it’s not a meeting place. You stop off, sometimes for a few hours. If we just said what he had to say we’d soon run out of conversation. So we fill in, we make things up, we fantacise . Around here that’s all there is: bar talk. Mind you, we lie but they’re not real lies because we all only pretend to believe them. Me, genetically speaking, I’m not really a lier, but when I go to sink a glass or two at Gromard’s, I’m like the rest: I don’t count! I adapt to the local culture! I’m a convivial lier if you like.***

Dump has come to Puffigny on the trail of the last living link to his father’s last heist, gone wrong, a certain Nadereau that no one in Puffigny admits to knowing, so quite naturally he calls in on the town’s detective, Helnoute Ballo, famous for having solved the case of the stolen desert spoons at the bistro, amongst other cases as illustrated in the opening quote.

Whilst Dump is in Puffigny, one of the three town teenagers, Nadège goes missing, the only trace being a red high heeled shoe being found in the forest near a retired civil engineer’s house. Farruque soon finds himself being questioned by the police:

Except that some of your ex-colleagues still can’t understand that you never got married! — Why? It’s against the law to stay single? — We know that you visit prostitutes. – It has to be done. Its for health reasons. For the same price, I could have joined a sports club. But I don’t like sport. If you come back on that, then you don’t know anything about life. Do you think I would have waited to be retired to become a rapist? Rape is like music or figure skating, if hou want to makea career of it you need to start young. You won’t find many rapists of my age.***

As you may have gathered, this mystery is a satire where Bartelt creates a world of improbable small town characters with their no holds barred way of speaking and where the furthest any of them has been is to Larcheville, the biggest nearby town, which of course no one has heard of. I remember laughing out loud at some passages.

First Published in French as “Ah les braves gens” in 2019 by Le Seuil.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Pour les commissions, je vais à Puffigny, parce que c’est plus près. Entre nous, j’en profite pour me lotionner l’arrière-gorge au bistrot de la Gare. On en entend, chez le Gromard. Y a toujours du monde. Un bistrot, c’est un lieu de passage, mais c’est aussi une salle de réunion. On y stationne. Des fois, pendant deux ou trois heures. Si on se limitait à dire ce qu’on a à dire, on serait vite à court d’arguments. Alors, on brode, on invente, on se laisse aller à des fantaisies. Par ici, on n’a que ça: la causerie au coin de la chope. Remarquez, on ment, mais c’est pas des mensonges, puisque tout le monde fait semblant de les croire. Moi, génétiquement, je ne suis pas menteur, mais quand je vais me sécher une mousse chez le Gromard, je suis comme les autres: jamais à une près! Je m’adapte à la culture de l’endroit! Si vous voulez, je pratique le mensonge de convivialité.»

Toute peine méritant salaire, le mari vous a rémunéré, je présume. — C’est-à-dire que cet homme-là est éleveur de lapins. Il devait me payer en lapins. Un lapin gratuit par semaine pendant un an. Ça ne me plaisait qu’à moitié. Le lapin, je n’en suis pas friand. Quand la femme a été prise la main dans le sac – façon de parler, vous imaginez bien –, elle m’a proposé d’acheter mon silence, en me payant en nature. J’ai eu la faiblesse d’accepter. – Vous avez trahi votre client? Vous avez brisé le pacte de confiance? C’est scandaleux! –D’abord, le mari méritait d’être trompé. C’est un sale bonhomme. Ensuite, sa femme était plus appétissante que le lapin. Donc, ne dramatisons pas. Ce jour-là, j’ai fait trois heureux: le mari, la femme et moi-même. Et j’ai sauvé un couple.

Sauf que certains de vos anciens collègues s’étonnent encore aujourd’hui que vous n’ayez pas trouvé à vous marier! – Pourquoi ? C’est interdit de rester célibataire ? – Nous savons que vous fréquentiez des prostituées. – Il faut bien que ça se fasse. C’était mon hygiène. Pour le même prix, j’aurais pu m’offrir un abonnement dans un club de sport. Mais j’aime pas le sport. Si vous trouvez à y redire, c’est que vous ignorez tout des choses de la vie. Vous croyez que j’aurais attendu d’être à la retraite pour devenir un violeur? Le viol c’est comme la musique ou le patinage artistique, si on veut faire carrière, il faut commencer tôt. Des violeurs de mon âge, ça ne court pas les rues.

Quai du Polar

As we all know, or imagine, the book fair, the ‘Quai des Polars’ programmed for the beginning of April in Lyons, France has been cancelled this year. This fair concentrates on thrillers and for more background try Emma or the official website.

In order to do my bit for this situation I’ve decided to read and to blog on the six books preselected for the readers’ prize due to be announced on the fourth of April and to announce my favorite. Only 15 days left, can I do it?
I managed to find the pre-selected books on the official website, see below. If anyone is interested in joining in, please go ahead, I may even blog in French as well!

Malamorte Antoine Albertini (JC Lattès) 358 pages.
Ah, les braves gens ! de Franz Bartelt (Le Seuil) 263 pages.
Requiem pour une république de Thomas Cantaloube (Gallimard) 544 pages.
Le Dernier thriller norvégien de Luc Chomarat (La Manufacture de Livre) 206 pages.
Les Mafieuses de Pascale Dietrich (Liana Levi) 152 pages.
Après les chiens de Michèle Pedinielli (L’Aube) 224 pages.