Governor General's Literary Awards

Descent into Night

Descent into Night

Translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott

Mawenzi House Publishers; distributed by University of Toronto Press; translation of Explication de la nuit by Edem Awumey, published by Les Éditions du Boréal



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 escapes 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.

"Descent into Night, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, is a beautifully assured rendering of a text offering many translation challenges. The translators agilely follow the text as it shifts between an ailing Quebec writer’s regrets about his life, and his long-ago involvement in a failed West African revolution, which haunts him into the present. This translation skillfully captures the lyricism of the French text."

Peer assessment committee: Dawn M. Cornelio, Peter Feldstein, Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo

Phyllis Aronoff Howard Scott
Photo (Howard Scott): Jacques Pharand


Phyllis Aronoff translates fiction, non-fiction and poetry, solo or with co-translator Howard Scott. Her most recent solo translations include Black Thursday, a memoir by French journalist Maurice Rajsfus, and Message Sticks, poems by the Innu writer Joséphine Bacon. The Wanderer, her translation of La Québécoite, by Régine Robin, received a Jewish Literary Award. 

Howard Scott translates novels and non-fiction, solo or with co-translator Phyllis Aronoff. He also translates poetry. His latest poetry translation is Blueberries and Apricots, by Innu writer Natasha Kanapé Fontaine. In 1997, he received a Governor General's Literary Award for his translation of The Euguelion by Louky Bersianik, and in 2017 he was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Social Myths and Collective Imaginaries, by Gérard Bouchard.

Scott and Aronoff received a Quebec Writers' Federation Translation Award for The Great Peace of Montreal of 1701.

49th ShelfCanadian Urban Libraries CouncilThe Centre for Equitable Library AccessChapters IndigoApple Books RakutenKoboLes librairesNational Network for Equitable Library ServicePoetry in Voice