After a mission in South Sudan that goes wrong, the narrator, a former employee of a humanitarian NGO, hides away traumatised in Normandy. Until the day he finds a telephone that belonged to Arthur, a photographer who had accompanied him to Malakal and was killed in mysterious circumstances. He is then plunged back into this troubled past that he wanted to forget… when he was at the heart of the bombardment, at a United Nations base near a camp for Shilluk people. Thirty thousand people lived there in fear, misery, dying of hunger, when they were not being massacred by the government troops of the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army), busy extracting oil from the sol de coton noir [black cotton soil] of the book’s title. Against this searing backdrop of ethnic cleansing, political tension and manipulation, will the narrator succeed in finding out the truth about Arthur’s death?
Translated from the French by Derek Scoins