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At Night All Blood is Black

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At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, and Anna Moschovakis

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  • International Booker Prize longlist 2021

By David Diop, and and, Anna Moschovakis

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13 reviews

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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.

Reviews

27 Aug 2021

Annette

An absolutely incredible book. It's a deep, dark, harrowing story about the brutalisation and traumatising of a young Senegalese man who joins the French army in WW1. There was never going to be a happy ending and it's not for the faint hearted but the writing is brilliant, compelling and urgent. It left me feeling battered and bruised - an utterly unforgettable experience.

06 Aug 2021

Sam P

I was on course to give this an extra star but I found the ending just too nebulous and on the whole the book was too disjointed for me. There were definite lyrical and powerful parts - particularly in the opening part. I felt it really lost it’s way in the hospital section and by the end my patience has worn thin with the author. There were some thought provoking ideas and different perspectives around war but ultimately was bit bewildered why this has won so many prizes.

05 Aug 2021

Becca D

I'm not sure whether I'm giving At Night All Blood Is Black 4 stars because I enjoyed reading it, or because I find the subject matter and themes at play super interesting. I think it is probably the latter. I didn't particularly enjoy the gruesome descriptions of war and violence, but I did enjoy the history hidden within - is this a good thing or not? I don't know!

I think what particularly intrigues me about At Night All Blood Is Black though is the notion of translation. The book is translated, and throughout the book translation occurs for Alfa to be able to understand. And then at the end, a book translated from its original language states 'To translate is never simple. To translate is to betray at the borders, it's to cheat, it's to trade one sentence for another. To translate is one of the only human activities in which one is required to lie about the details to convey the truth at large. To translate is to risk understanding better than others that the truth about a word is not single, but double, even triple, quadruple. To translate is to distance oneself from God's truth, which, as everyone knows or believes, is single.' I've been left wondering what 'God's truth' would be if I read Frère d'âme. The title is more human. What else would feel different?!

05 Aug 2021

JMHall

Somewhere between fiction and poetry, this is a lyrical work of storytelling that I would say was more interesting to read than enjoyable. But given the subject matter - war, violence, trauma - perhaps that was the intention. I found it interesting because 'At Night All Blood is Black' gave me a new perspective from which to view The Great War, that of a Senegalese soldier fighting for France. This is a part of the war I knew very little about and so was intrigued to find out more about the colonial dynamics at play and the attitudes of the Senegalese soldiers to a war largely predicated on European interests. However, there was very little about the wider, geo-political context here, with only the odd phrase or reference alluding to our protagonist's thoughts and feelings to the French and France, most of which we could already have guessed at beforehand. Instead, the novel focusses on a very personal and straightforward story of a young man seeing his best friend die a long, painful death in front of him and then the aftermath of this trauma, interspersed with memories of an almost idyllic pre-war life. The reason I would say the novel wasn't enjoyable is largely to do with style. The various repetitions and refrains that begin the novel were clearly a deliberate stylistic choice of the author which I personally found a little frustrating. I wanted to get on with the plot. I also found the representation of women - or, more accurately, their bodies - somewhat problematic.

05 Aug 2021

Jo Hill

This book confronts the horrors of war from the perspective of a Senegalese soldier fighting for France in the First World War. I didn’t enjoy reading the gruesome descriptions of killings and mutilation, but it was interesting to observe how feelings of revenge perpetuate the cycle of violence. I found Alfa’s reflections on how moral norms should not always apply in war fascinating, especially as it was his decision not to end the suffering of his ‘more-than-brother’ that ultimately led to his descent into madness. The depiction of female characters largely in terms of their sexuality was troubling, but this may be designed to show how the brutalising effects of war take away people’s humanity. So, overall, I didn’t find it entertaining but it was definitely thought-provoking in parts.

04 Aug 2021

Chantal Bordet

This book is not for the fainthearted; it is as beautifully poetic as it is horrific. Part historical, deeply though provoking, it is one whose images will stay with you forever. It seamlessly moves you from a place of love and deep humanity to one of utter inhumanity and moral bankruptcy. Inhumanity brought about mostly by the demands of war, army rules, their rulers and racist prejudices but also by the expectations and traumas of deep rooted village traditions. The parallel between the scars of war and lost loves are intertwined throughout. This book is full of pertinent observations and pearls of wisdom and I loved the story of the princess who finds her ‘happy ever after’, not in the perfect prince without scars but in a man whose life’s scars have made him rich and redefined perfection. A uniquely rich read and well worthy prize winner.

04 Aug 2021

MayaEB

This beautifully written but brutally visceral depiction of trench warfare in the Great War had me gripped from the start. David Diop has filled a long empty void by choosing a Senegalese soldier as protagonist in this story of Alfa and Mademba fighting together on the front line. When Mademba is mortally injured and Alfa is neither able to save or mercifully kill his ‘more-than-brother’, he seeks savage revenge on the enemy. As Alfa descends into madness and is moved off the front line the story line of the book becomes increasingly confused which forced me to re-read great sections of the book in an attempt to tie up the loose ends in my head. This book explores themes of violence, racism and racial stereotyping, sex and sensuality, colonialism and mental health. A worthy winner of the International Booker Prize

03 Aug 2021

JennyC

A captivating though sometimes horrifying read exploring the barbarity of war and the fine line between duty, braveness, guilt and insanity.
Find the French title 'soul brother' gives this novel a more human slant. We read this as a book club and it prompted lots of conversation and differences of opinion. Beautifully written and almost poetic in parts, the language Diop uses and his repetition hooks you in from the beginning.

03 Aug 2021

fatimamirza

A worthy winner of the international booker prize. Really enjoyed it although it was not an easy read. Very gruesome and harrowing and does not shy away from ugliness of war. I enjoyed how the novel taught me about the role of the Senagalese soldiers and the shame of colonialism in WWI.

03 Aug 2021

LisaLisaLisa

I was transfixed by the language in this book, the poetic, repetitive phrases and how they conjured a mental image of the protagonist. The rhythm of Afra's language gives a humanity to his words, horrific though they are. I'm not sure how I feel about this book yet, or how I feel about Afra. I think I will need to read it again, maybe more than once.

02 Aug 2021

chaviland

Overall, I felt this was a worthy winner of the 2021 International Booker prize. I experienced the novel as having three distinct phases: the largest chunk, up until around p. 76 when Alfa Ndiaye is at the front, cutting hands and feeling remorse for not having killed Mademba Diop; the phase when he is in hospital at the rear, drawing and his 'back history' in Senegal is painted in, up to p. 125; and the final section which requires a rereading of the first two. The first phase has been described as 'incantatory' and I think this captures a sense of it quite well. It reminded me of Hemingway with the use of repetitive, simple statements with small pieces of additional information added, so there is an incremental increase in understanding. The length of this first section creates a sense of stasis and as a result the second phase is highly enjoyable since lots of new information is added quickly and the reader is hungry for this after the slow first stage. Generally, I'm not too keen on endings which require re-readings, so I did not like the final stage, but it may need some more reflection. It was an ending that 'grated' rather than satistying, but perhaps it is the more powerful for that in that it causes the novel to remain in one's consciousness longer.

Generally, I thought this was a great addition to the very well known and apprecaited canon of World War 1 literature in English. The manner in which the first person narrrator refers to the different types of soldiers and their treatment, the 'Chocolat soldiers' and the 'Toubabs' powerfully conveys a part of the history of this conflict that is not widely known in the English-speaking world.

29 Jul 2021

Rayanne

A short, brutal but illuminating story about the relationship of two Senegalse young men who leave their homeland to serve for the French in WWI. The author certainly doesn't hold back from describing the horrific reality of war as loss leads to the main character Afra becoming dehumanised. The novel took an unexpected change in direction for me as Afra is sent away from the battlefield to "rest". This part of the novel however as we learn about Afra's earlier life and trauma is no less shocking than the graphic descriptions of the battlefield. For me it was a coming of age story as well as a tale of a soldier's descent into post traumatic stress. I enjoyed the intertwining of folklore and Senegalese culture. The book flows so well you wouldn't expect it to have been originally written in French - credit to the translator. A powerful story which has given me a new perspective on WWI, the value of friendship and the devastating realities of war.

12 Jul 2021

ayres

This book really brings out how dehumanising war is. The protagonist, Alfa, is a Senegalese soldier in World War One who becomes insane after the death of his friend, and descends into darkness. He horrifies his comrades, but is the French officer any less "insane" when he orders the death of the mutineers? Alfa responds to the industrialised slaughter of the Western Front in the context of his own background, becoming a hunter. It is very horrific and brutal, but that is what war is.

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