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Black Blood

Julien Suaudeau

(Flammarion, 352 pages, 2019)

  As dark, strange, and disorienting as a David Lynch movie

—Grégoire Leménager, L’Obs

 Two rival brothers leave their birthplace in the southern Alps to take part in a military operation in the West African Sahel. The legitimate son, Sylvain, survives but is spirited away to a psychiatric ward. The bastard son, Eric, is missing in action and declared dead in absentia. Ten years later, a boy tracking a rogue wolf sights a man in the ruins of a mountain hut. Eric is back, but his homecoming—rather than a cause for celebration—signals the revival of a repressed family history of depredation and violence perpetrated in Africa during French colonial rule. From the burning desert to the snowy Alps, a spirit with long-held grievances accompanies him, and seeks vengeance.

Close in age, Sylvain and Eric share a tense yet intimate bond fraught with resentment and jealousy. Both love the same woman, Audrey; both vie for approval from their powerful father, Pierre Lazar, also known as The Forester; and both suffer under his harsh grip. They both ignore the source of the wealth that has allowed the patriarch to build his own personal empire in The Mercantour, a wild and untouched region of the metropole.

 The brothers are members of the Chasseurs Alpins, the elite mountain infantry of the French army. They enlist in a mission to secure the porous borders between Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali against jihadist attacks. During a reconnaissance patrol, they encounter a strange village haunted by a violent history of plundering that ties them to this land. Unwittingly, they have found their way back to the very place where their grandfather—a high-ranking colonial administrator—was guilty of numerous crimes against the local population. Camara Oumar, the descendant of a proud Bambara lineage, has been biding his time, waiting for the right moment to redress the wrongs committed against his people. Haunting Eric’s dreams, he uses him as a conduit through which he can at last exact his revenge.

 Black Blood is, at its core, a ghost story wrapped in family dynamics worthy of a Greek tragedy. Suaudeau offers us a poignant and evocative novel that rejects linear timelines, abolishes conventional spatial dimensions, and blurs the boundaries between the living and the dead. Black Blood forces you to lose your bearings and haunts you long after you’ve finished reading it.

 

Julien Suaudeau is the author of three previous novels: Ni Le feu ni la foudre (Robert Laffont, 2016), Le français (Robert Laffont, 2015) and Dawa (Robert Laffont, 2014). His fiction work focuses on contemporary France seen through the lenses of colonial and postcolonial history, immigration, terrorism, and socioeconomic inequalities. He is a regular contributor to the opinion pages of the French dailies Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération, and the weekly magazine L’Obs. He lives in the United States and teaches at Bryn Mawr College.