AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK by David Diop
translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis
Set in the trenches during World War I, At Night All Blood is Black tells the story of a Senegalese man, Alfa Ndiaye, haunted by the fact that he was unable to mercy-kill his best friend after a serious injury. He then descends into a sort of madness as thoughts of loyalty and cowardice torment him, along with the futility of the racist pantomime he’s forced to take part in — the French would utilize racist stereotypes of African soldiers, arming them with machetes to scare off the Germans — an identity which Alfa both rejects and internalizes.
This book is violent and graphic and visceral but it’s also sublime. Anna Moschovakis’s translation is stunning and Diop’s writing thrums with a rhythm that can only be described as mesmerizing — reading this book is like being in a trance that you can’t snap out of. The repetition might be an annoyance to some readers, but it was really an asset for me and I felt that it drove home both the monotony of trench warfare and the cyclical nature of Ndiaye’s thoughts as his mental state deteriorates.
I read this book a couple of months back and to be honest with you I can’t remember why I gave it 4 stars instead of 5; probably more of a gut feeling than anything, as looking back I can’t think of a single thing it did wrong. It’s a deeply, uncomfortably human book about an oft-overlooked piece of WWI history — not an easy read by any means, but really worth spending time with. Genuinely thrilled that this won the International Booker this year.