The Colonel Does Not Sleep

Original title: Le colonel ne dort pas

Publication Date:

August 2022



Original language and publisher

French | Editions du Sous-Sol

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia

Territories Sold

Netherlands (Cossee, at auction)
Sweden (Norstedts)
Catalan (1984)
Italy (Sellerio)
Spanish (Spain) (Minuscula)
Argentina (Metalucida)
Arabic (Dar Athar)
Greece (Dioptra)
France pocket (J'ai lu)


Literary Fiction


  • Prix Interallié 2022 (longlisted)
  • Prix du Roman Fnac 2022 (longlisted)
  • Prix Jésus Paradis 2023 (longlisted)
  • Prix des Libraires en Seine 2023 (longlisted)
  • Grand Prix de La Société des gens de lettres (SGDL) 2023 (longlisted)

The Colonel Does Not Sleep

Original title: Le colonel ne dort pas


Le colonel ne dort pas is such a powerful, tragic and haunting novel. It reminded me of Waiting for the Barbarians, in which J.M. Coetzee tells us a story about someone who seeks to do the right thing in the middle of a war, and of David Diops Frère d’Âme, that is about the dehumanization of the soldiers during la Grande Guerre. But Malfatto’s addition to this is her deep understanding of the human condition in this cruel and hopeless situation. How can someone cope with the things he’s done, with the crimes he has committed? It seems to be impossible for the characters in this book. They’re withdrawing from reality, trying to escape the feelings they have – disappearing into la brume, in the hierarchy or even in a game of chess. It’s simply incredible that Malfatto can feel through the characters in only 100 pages, in such a gentle and poetic writing style. —Martin Van Der Heide at Cossee

In these days shattered by the unbearable war so close to home, the tale about the colonel and his haunting ghosts and insanity stands out with its acute sense of necessity and poetry. The sentences are dense with information, yet light and clear. Though the book is short, it encompasses so many thoughts on war, on the human psyche, on fear, rage and cruelty with an intensity that impresses me deeply. — Lisa Lindberg at Norstedts

Malfatto’s writing is very lyrical and never rarefied, it’s always resonant. I find again the author’s mastery of rhythm, of form and also her daring to look squarely at terrible aspects of human existence. — Valeria Bergalli at Minuscula

The Colonel Does Not Sleep feels like reading a contemporary classic. It is a book of tremendous strength and great freedom, from the dynamism of the ever-switching narrative lines. It feels like poetry at times, as it takes us into the thoughts of the main character and his obsessions, a torturer and executioner infected by the ghosts of his victims, who gradually sinks into madness

As the tension rises brilliantly, the poetry of the language is constant and wonderfully mastered. Emilienne Malfatto gracefully keeps to a rare, elliptical, syncopated, and melodious style. Her writing also places the present in an out-of-time, out-of-place environment, where images, sometimes ancestral, sometimes extremely topical, spring before our eyes. I am a great admirer of her work, which I find rare and strikingly intelligent in the way she observes the world and the images she chooses. ​

The narrative tension and its evolution through the construction of its characters (the general, the colonel, and the orderly) provides a powerful sense of motion, just like Jean Genet in theater when he associates roles and functions of his characters.​

It could be described as a cruel tale. It is certainly the impression the reader gets: a tale for adults that should be hidden to children, filled with terrifying images that populate a waking nightmare, like a tale by Tomi Ungerer.

One cannot but think of the indelible stain of spilt blood that tortures the one who plunges his arm into it, and of the torments of Macbeth and his wife, their bloody hands haunting their dreams of the ever-present smell of blood.​ ​— ​Adrien Bosc, editor and founder of Editions le Sous-Sol

Emilienne Malfatto (Goncourt Debut Novel Prize), photographer and grand reporter (Albert Londres prize) has penned a second novel—a vertiginous story about war and what it does to men.

In an anonymous basement in a big city of a country at war, day after day, the colonel toils away at his drudgery. He is an expert torturer, content to hide and obey orders from the Counter Conquest and from distant battles.

At night, the colonel does not sleep, plagued by his own ghosts. An army of shadows and voices, his victims have taken his dreams hostage. The rain outside is incessant. The landscape and faces have turned to ash—a sort of waking nightmare painted in the grey hues of disillusionment. Shadows dance and three men on the road to perdition answer: the tortured torturer, the henchmen silently lie in wait, and, in a huge palace, in the middle of a large, empty room, a general slowly turns mad.

A cruel fable about mental illness, war, and men. A powerfully written tour de force, it is elliptical, syncopated, repetitive, and melodic; it builds in a disturbing crescendo. Its treatment of the threat of war that never becomes reality, of invisible enemies, and the vacuousness of orders is reminiscent of Buzzati’s The Tartar Steppe and of Hubert Mingarelli’s Four Soldiers.

Densely austere, Le colonel ne dort pas has everything to become an instant classic.

Marketing Information

  • Rights for the author’s previous titles sold in Brazil, Italy, Spain, Catalan, Germany, the UK, and Croatia.

Other books by this author