Beyond the Door of No Return

Finalist, National Book Awards 2023 for Translated Literature

ISBN 9780374606770
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
Author photo of David Diop. (Photo credit: Eric Traversié)
David Diop

David Diop was born in Paris and was raised in Senegal. He is the head of the Arts, Languages, and Literature Department at the University of Pau, where his research includes such topics as 18th-century French literature and European representations of Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. More about this author >

Translator photo of Sam Taylor. (Photo credit: Kathy Taylor)
Sam Taylor

Sam Taylor is an award-winning literary translator and novelist. He has translated more than 60 books from the French, including Laurent Binet’s HHhH and Leïla Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny. More about this author >

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Translated from the French

From the publisher:

Paris, 1806. The renowned botanist Michel Adanson lies on his deathbed, the masterwork to which he dedicated his life still incomplete. As he expires, the last word to escape his lips is a woman’s name: Maram.

The key to this mysterious woman’s identity is Adanson’s unpublished memoir of the years he spent in Senegal, concealed in a secret compartment in a chest of drawers. Therein lies a story as fantastical as it is Maram, it turns out, is none other than the fabled revenant. A young woman of noble birth from the kingdom of Waalo, Maram was sold into slavery but managed to escape from the Island of Gorée—a major embarkation point of the transatlantic slave trade—to a small village hidden in the forest. While on a research expedition in West Africa as a young man, Adanson hears the story of the revenant and becomes obsessed with finding her. Accompanied by his guide, he ventures deep into the Senegalese bush on a journey that reveals not only the savagery of the French colonial occupation but also the unlikely transports of the human heart.

Judges Citation

In Beyond the Door of No Return, David Diop embeds a heartrending story of love and loss alongside the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. This epistolary novel draws deftly from the archives, refashioning the journal of a French botanist and the subject of Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait of Madeleine. Lushly written and exquisitely translated by Sam Taylor, Beyond the Door of No Return reflects the consequential reach of the traffic of humans, from France to Senegal to Guadeloupe.


David Diop and Sam Taylor at the 2023 National Book Awards Finalist Reading