Saturday, 8 May 2021

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop
First published in French as Frère d'âme in August 2018. English language translation by Anna Moschovakis published by Pushkin Press on the 11th November 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alfa and Mademba are two of the many Senegalese soldiers fighting in the Great War. Together they climb dutifully out of their trenches to attack France's German enemies whenever the whistle blows, until Mademba is wounded, and dies in a shell hole with his belly torn open. 

Without his more-than-brother, Alfa is alone and lost amidst the savagery of the conflict. He devotes himself to the war, to violence and death, but soon begins to frighten even his own comrades in arms. How far will Alfa go to make amends to his dead friend? 

At Night All Blood is Black is a hypnotic, heartbreaking rendering of a mind hurtling towards madness. 

At Night All Blood Is Black is a powerful historical fiction novel set in the French trenches of World War One. Written from the perspective of Senegalese soldier, Alfa, it vividly depicts this man's rapidly declining mental health in the aftermath of witnessing his best friend's drawn out and agonising death in No Man's Land. I feel that this novel would appeal to readers of Pat Barker's 'Regeneration' trilogy in its understanding and portrayal of how the horrific Great War conditions drove so many soldiers to the brink of insanity and, in this case, far beyond that line.

I found several scenes difficult to read because of the grim violence they describe. The path Alfa chooses to follow is extreme, yet makes perfect sense when viewed from the disturbed turmoil of his mind. What particularly interested me too was how his fellow surviving soldiers initially applauded and encouraged his actions. Diop's first-person narration has an enthralling, poetic quality which I found compelling. Despite his monstrous actions, Alfa always came across to me as a broken man, not as the evil demon his comrades see.

It is rare to find a Great War novel written from a non-white point of view - a timely reminder of the thousands of African and Asian soldiers who were conscripted into European-led armies only to have their sacrifices downplayed and overlooked afterwards. I am grateful to Pushkin Press for translating At Night All Blood Is Black into English because my French isn't strong enough to have fully appreciated the work in its original language.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by David Diop / War fiction / Books from Senegal

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