Descent into Night

Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, Translation, 2018

Translated from French by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott.

From Goncourt Prize finalist Edem Awumey, a beautiful and brilliant new novel.

With a nod to Samuel Beckett and Bohumil Hrabal, a young dramatist from a West African nation describes a student protest against a brutal oligarchy and its crushing aftermath. While distributing leaflets with provocative quotations from Beckett, Ito Baraka is taken to a camp where torture, starvation, beatings, and rape are normal. Forced to inform on his friends, whose fates he now fears, and released a broken man, he is enabled to escape to Quebec. His one goal is to tell the story of the protest and pay homage to Koli Lem, a teacher, cellmate, and lover of books, who was blinded by being forced to look at the sun–and is surely a symbol of the nation.

Edem Awumey gives us a darkly moving and terrifying novel about fear and play, repression and protest, and the indomitable nature of creativity.


“Artfully constructed, peppered with evocative phrasing, and skillfully translated, this beautiful volume is upsetting, poignant, and at times harrowing.”
–Publishers Weekly
, starred review ★

“This is a novel of emotional complexity, of what it means to survive through trauma, and the repercussions of that survival.”
–Montreal Review of Books

“The poetical lyricism of the work intensifies the power of the horror of the story being told. The prose is an unflinching spotlight that shines directly into that morass of unspeakable events.”
–Lisa de Nikolits, author of No Fury Like That

“[T]the story of Ito Baraka takes the reader on a journey into the darkest places of the human mind . . .”
–The African Book Review blog

“Un récit poignant et magnifiquement écrit.”
–La Presse

“Grave, tragique, dur, violent, mais porté par une écriture fiévreuse, embrasée. La surenchère poétique n’est pas loin . . .”
–Le Devoir


Publication Date: November 2017

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-988449-16-6
Page size: 5.75″ x 8.75″
160 pages

eBook ISBN: 978-1-988449-21-0

Photo of Edem Awumey

Edem Awumey was born in Lomé, Togo. He is the author of four previous novels. Descent into Night, the English translation of Explication de la nuit, won the prestigious Governor-General’s Award for Translation in 2018. The other novels are Port-Melo (2006), which won the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire; Les pieds sales (2009), which was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt in France; and Rose déluge (2011). The English translation of Les pieds sales, Dirty Feet (2011), was selected for the Dublin Impac Award. Edem Awumey lives in Gatineau, Quebec.

Also by this author