At Night All Blood Is Black

At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 out of 5 stars

At Night All Blood Is Black is a harrowing story of Alfa Ndiaye, set during World War I. He is one of the Senegalese soldiers fighting in the multinational army under French command. They are encouraged to pretend savagery during the attacks to frighten the enemies. One day, Alfa’s close friend Mademba Diop died in agony in No Man’s Land, begging his friend for mercy. Unable to grant it, Alfa watched his ‘more than brother’ die, which sent him on the path to madness.

Despite how violent it can be, David Diop’s story is hard to put down. It is horrifying and fascinating at the same time. After his friend’s death, Alfa descends into madness. His savageness is not an act anymore, while confused grief and regret cause him to murder and mutilate the German soldiers. The repetitive language seems to hypnotise, dragging the reader deeper into Alfa’s state of mind.

The novel is divided into two parts- one describes the horrors of the war, and the other is a recollection of Alfa’s life before the war. While the first half is original in describing a savage state of mind, the second becomes tiring in a fixation on male desire and pleasure. It is possible to understand it as highlighting the contrast between life and death, pleasure and pain, but still… It was just too much for me.

Overall, I would recommend this novel to those accustomed to the uneasy aesthetic of war/ anti-war books, where cruelty and violence seem more common and less shocking. On the other hand, the story could have an even more substantial effect on those looking for a unique and memorable tale.

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