Booker International 2021 – At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop
Booker International 2021- Book 1 rated by panellist Tracy
Details from the official Booker Site.
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop
Translated by Anna Moschovakis from French
Published by Pushkin Press
At Night All Blood is Black captures the tragedy of a young man’s mind hurtling towards madness and tells the little-heard story of the Senegalese who fought for France on the Western Front during the First World War.
Alfa Ndiaye and Mademba Diop are two of the many Senegalese tirailleurs fighting in the Great War under the French flag. Whenever Captain Armand blows his whistle they climb out of their trenches to attack the blue-eyed enemy. But one day Mademba is mortally wounded, and without his friend, his more-than-brother, Alfa is alone amidst the savagery of the trenches, far from all he knows and holds dear. He throws himself into combat with renewed vigour, but soon begins to scare even his own comrades in arms.
About the Author
David Diop was born in Paris in 1966 and grew up in Senegal. He now lives in France, where he is a professor of eighteenth century literature at the University of Pau. At Night All Blood is Black is David’s second novel. It was shortlisted for ten major prizes in France and won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens as well as the Swiss Prix Ahmadou Korouma. It is currently being translated into 13 languages and has already won the Strega European Prize in Italy.
Tracy’s Thoughts: Alfa, a Senegalese soldier in WWI, denies his childhood friend Mademba’s request: to kill the mortally wounded Mademba out of mercy. The echoes of his friend’s curses remain, and Alfa is riddled with guilt. As he descends into madness, he is suspected of being a demon by his fellow soldiers.
Until now, the scariest soldier’s dive into madness I’ve read is Heart of Darkness by Conrad. Alfa’s descent is realistic and well written. His character is easy to picture, though it’s a disturbing mental image. (Really disturbing. Like don’t read this at night disturbing.)
The story moved quickly- the book is less than 200 pages- and was relatively coherent, given the less than reliable narrator. It also addresses more than just madness from war- the Senegalese soldiers were handed machetes and told to run at the Germans and scream like “savages”, thereby sacrificing the African soldiers, and protecting the whites.
There is a lot in this little book, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Writing quality: 5/5
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
At Night All Blood Is Black 18/20
Have you read this one? What did you think?
Nope. Not for me. I don’t enjoy WWI stories & clearly this is strong stuff. Each to their own.