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Darkness (Ténèbre)

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Original Language: French | 320 pp. | January 2020

2 Seas Represents: Dutch, Nordic and English North American rights.

HISTORICAL FICTION

A complex and subtle exploration of how refined barbarism can really be.

Brussels, 1889. The surveyor Pierre Claes is commissioned by Leopold II of Belgium to delimit a section of the northern border of the Congo Free State, assisted only by Xi Xiao, a timid Chinese emigrant that he hires upon his arrival in Congo.

Xi Xiao is a former executioner specialized in lingchi, a Chinese form of torture consisting of slowly removing parts of the body, which eventually results in death. Together, in the course of their travel in central Africa, they will be deeply shocked by the horrors of the colonial system and slowly Claes will be invaded by deep melancholy.

He ends up asking Xi Xiao to cut him up, just like he has cut up the African continent. Xi Xiao accepts. The former executioner, who always has been able to read the future in the wounds and caresses of the world, knows two things: he will love Pierre Claes, and he and Claes will die at the same time.

Retracing the history of Claes’ family and describing the violence of the Congo of Leopold II, Darkness paints a gripping and original portrait of the Western world’s bloodlust in the 19th century.

Paul Kawczak was born in the French city of Besançon and now lives in Chicoutimi, Canada. He is the author of the short stories collection Un long soir (La Peuplade, 2017). Darkness (Ténèbre) is his first novel.