With inundation from social media platforms and the 24 hour news cycle, we’re constantly exposed to horrific images of war. The conflicts currently taking place thousands of miles away, begin to feel closer to home. Their distance pared down by the touch of a screen.
The ongoing wars have had a direct effect on so many individuals. My heart truly goes out to them.
One of the strange things that I’ve noticed when it comes to many of my reading experiences is that I unknowingly tend to choose books that somehow connect to current events, whether they be personal or universal.
Last week was no different.
I was looking at my bookshelves, in search of a short novel. A quick read. My eyes landed on At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop. A friend gave me this novel over a year ago. He described it as “disturbing”… a must read. I was intrigued. And I was drawn to the surname Diop. I recognized it as Senegalese, and I had never read works by writers from that region.
The choice was made.
This is a novel about war. This is a novel about death. Therefore I feel it’s important to provide a warning to potential readers, in particular those with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder. This selection may not be for you.
Alfa Ndiaye and Mademba Diop have known each other all of their lives. They’re best friends, often described as “more than brothers,” raised together in the fields of Gandiol. Their lives are deeply intertwined, forged by something greater than blood. Sheer will, perhaps. So, when the French army calls upon its black soldiers to fight in World War 1, Alfa and Mademba enter the deadly conflict side by side.
But casualties of war are inevitable. Loved ones are lost. And Alfa understands this all too well when he finds his friend, Mademba, mortally wounded on the battlefield. Despite Mademba’s cries for a swift end to his suffering, Alfa cannot bring himself to complete the final act, and watches helplessly as his friend dies a slow and agonizing death.
Overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame, Alfa spirals into madness, seeking revenge against enemy soldiers, and committing horrifying acts of violence within the already gruesome backdrop of war.
Initially cheered on by members of his troop, the sentiment changes when they decide Alfa’s increasingly strange and hideous behavior has gone too far. Word begins to spread that he is an evil spirit, a “sorcerer-soldier”, a “devourer of souls.”
But as Alfa reiterates throughout this story, he knows now what he didn’t know before. He understands.
In war, humanity disappears in the gray smoke of artillery fire.
At Night All Blood Is Black is an unyielding novel detailing the perils of war, in particular the psychological costs. Diop builds this narrative within the historical context of colonial West Africa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_conquest_of_Senegal#:~:text=The%20French%20conquest%20of%20Senegal,campaign%20in%20the%2019th%20century), an environment seething with racial tension amidst wartime conflict.
A story of incredible violence and unimaginable sacrifice, At Night All Blood Is Black will definitely leave a lasting impression.
If you found this post and book selection interesting, check out this post from the booksandbevs7 archive:
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Until next time…