At Night All Blood is Black
By David Diop
Astonishingly good." ―Lily Meyer, NPR
"So incantatory and visceral I don’t think I’ll ever forget it." ―Ali Smith, The Guardian | Best Books of 2020
One of the Wall Street Journal's 11 best books of the fall | One of The A.V. Club's fifteen best books of 2020 |A Sunday Times best book of the year
Alfa Ndiaye is a Senegalese man who, never before having left his village, finds himself fighting as a so-called “Chocolat” soldier with the French army during World War I. When his friend Mademba Diop, in the same regiment, is seriously injured in battle, Diop begs Alfa to kill him and spare him the pain of a long and agonizing death in No Man’s Land.
Unable to commit this mercy killing, madness creeps into Alfa’s mind as he comes to see this refusal as a cruel moment of cowardice. Anxious to avenge the death of his friend and find forgiveness for himself, he begins a macabre ritual: every night he sneaks across enemy lines to find and murder a blue-eyed German soldier, and every night he returns to base, unharmed, with the German’s severed hand. At first his comrades look at Alfa’s deeds with admiration, but soon rumors begin to circulate that this super soldier isn’t a hero, but a sorcerer, a soul-eater. Plans are hatched to get Alfa away from the front, and to separate him from his growing collection of hands, but how does one reason with a demon, and how far will Alfa go to make amends to his dead friend?
Peppered with bullets and black magic, this remarkable novel fills in a forgotten chapter in the history of World War I. Blending oral storytelling traditions with the gritty, day-to-day, journalistic horror of life in the trenches, David Diop's At Night All Blood is Black is a dazzling tale of a man’s descent into madness.
"Beguiling . . . Diop realizes the full nature of war―that theater of macabre and violent drama―on the page. He takes his character into the depths of hell and lets him thrive there . . . As violent and disturbing as these encounters are, they are rendered with such artistic grace that one derives a strange pleasure in reading about even the bloodiest of nights." ―Chigozie Obioma, The New York Times Book Review
"Heartbreaking and poetic . . . [At Night All Blood Is Black] addresses a story woefully absent from French history books – the inner life of African troops who fought in the French trenches in the first world war." ―Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian
“The First World War continues to attract historical novelists, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new stories to tell about its horrors. Yet David Diop has created a work that, although less than 150 pages in length, is powerfully original . . . Unflinching in its exploration of the madness war can induce, Diop’s novella is a remarkable piece of writing.” ―Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times