He is Senegalese and French, with nothing to reconcile

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“I was lucky that my French and Senegalese families were both very warm towards my parents. I got a lot of love from both sides,” he said. “I didn’t experience my two cultural identities as a source of conflict.

Diop returned to Paris after finishing high school to study literature. While his mother, an avid reader, had nurtured his love for a wide range of French and African authors, at university he became obsessed with the 18th century “Enlightenment”, the humanist Enlightenment movement led by Voltaire and Denis Diderot. “I was drawn to their activism and commitment to human rights. I won’t say I lost them, but at the time I had political ideals,” Diop said with a laugh.

Raised on France’s universalist values, Diop said he had not experienced racism as an academic of color and was careful to distance his writing from activism. He finds notions such as cultural appropriation, he says, “oppressive” – ​​”Flaubert created a Madame Bovary even though he was not a woman” – and prefers to think of literature as “freedom”.

“We shouldn’t lock ourselves in mental prisons,” he said. (At one point in our conversation, Diop kindly asked, “Don’t you think these questions about race are imported into countries where issues weren’t addressed in these terms?”)

Yet “At Night All Blood Is Black” unequivocally alludes to the racial dynamics at play in the trenches of World War I. African soldiers in colonized countries were equipped with machetes to inspire greater fear. Alfa, Diop’s main character, takes on the performance of savagery that is expected of him, and he takes it to another level by venturing out each night to assassinate a German soldier and bring back his severed hand.

Both Diop and Zeniter have drawn on the work of historians to fill in the gaps. “I read them like an academic shouldn’t: without taking notes. I wanted what really stuck with me to reappear when I started writing,” Diop said.

When it comes to the Algerian War, Zeniter found “a colossal amount of scholarship,” she said. “It’s much easier to move on without being afraid of making a huge mistake.”

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