At Night All Blood is Black (2018, translated from French 2020)
Author – David Diop
Translated by Anna Moschovakis
Genre – Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction
Page Count – 160 pages
There is no dearth of WW2 stories. Every few days, there is a new historical fiction with a person walking away with the 1940s French/German background on the cover. While Heather Morris‘ biographical novels (and I use the words loosely) – The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey – were overnight hits, I feel like books like these completely brush over the reality and try to add an element of adventure to the harrowing history.
Books like At Night All Blood is Black are true war stories. Told from the perspective of Alfa Ndiaye, a Senegalese soldier in the French army in WW2, the short novel explores the slow descent to madness of a man who has seen the worst of war.
At first, the reason for Alfa’s degeneration seems to be his ‘more-than-brother’ Mademba’s death but as Alfa starts to unravel, he also begins to think of different moments in his life that left him with pain. There are a lot of parts in the book which reflect upon the trauma and realities of war but the part which really stood out for me was when Mademba asks Alfa to rid him of his misery, Alfa does not do it and justifies it as an act of courage, only to realize later on that it was one of cowardice.
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In fact, such moments in the book are abundant, the deeper realizations amid a world which seems to be falling apart. Alfa seems to almost fall into a memory hole and digs for the moments leading up to his madness.
With the narrative style of Chinua Achebe and self reflection of Dostoevsky, At Night All Blood is Black is definitely one of the best translated works I’ve read this year.
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