“I was lucky that my French and Senegalese families both acted very warmly towards my parents. I received a lot of love from both sides, ”he said. “I did not experience my two cultural identities as a source of conflict.”
Diop returned to Paris after finishing high school to study literature. While his mother, a devoted reader, had nurtured his love for a wide range of French and African authors, in college he became obsessed with the 18th century “Enlightenment”, the humanist movement of the Enlightenment led by Voltaire. and Denis Diderot. “I was drawn to their activism and commitment to human rights. I won’t say that I lost them, but at the time I had political ideals, ”said Diop, laughing.
Raised on the universalist values of France, Diop said he had not experienced racism as a scholar of color and that he is 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 regard literature as “freedom”.
“We should not be locked up in mental prisons,” he said. (At one point in our conversation, Diop kindly asked, “Don’t you think these race questions are being imported into countries where the issues haven’t been 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, the main character of Diop, takes up the performance of savagery expected of him, and he takes it to another level by venturing each night to assassinate a German soldier and bring back his severed hand.
Diop and Zeniter both drew 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 impressed me to reappear when I started writing, ”said Diop.
Regarding the Algerian war, Zeniter found “a colossal sum of scholarships,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to move forward without being afraid of making a huge mistake.”