"At Night All Blood Is Black"

At Night All Blood Is Black

There is something both satisfying and saddening about reading a book no one else seems to have heard of. At least, no one else I know. On the one hand, I feel like I’ve discovered this great new thing. On the other, if it’s so great, why is it not on anyone else’s radar?

That’s how it was with David Diop’s At Night All Blood Is Black, a World War One novel that, for me, is up there with All Quiet On The Western Front. It is brief, intense, moving, gutting, enlightening, and largely unknown amongst my little literary circle.

In fairness to Diop, this book is not actually unknown. It was originally published in French in 2018, and won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens that year. The English translation won the 2021 International Booker Prize. It has been, appropriately, feted. 

Yet somehow when I went to look for a copy it was in none of the libraries to which I have access—something I have since rectified with the help of some excellent librarians. And since no one I knew had heard of it, no one could lend me a copy. Sure I could get it on Amazon, but finding a copy of a book this good shouldn’t take multiple steps. Nonetheless, here we are.

Let me take a moment to tell you why At Night… is so good, and then discuss a little bit about why I think it’s not making the rounds like some other novels do.

The plot revolves around Alfa, a Senegalese soldier fighting with the French army in the trenches of the first world war. After witnessing his best friend’s horrific death, and having been unable to show mercy by quickly ending his suffering, Alfa slowly devolves into madness due to the horrors of a brutal and almost meaningless war.

"At Night All Blood Is Black" is the kind of book you can read in two days. It will give you an emotional gut punch, and leave your mind frayed, but you’ll be glad it did.

A few things raise this book to the upper echelons of not only war novels, but novels in general. First is that it’s about a little-known part of a well-known war. I had no idea how many Senegalese troops were involved in the fighting, and this story got me to research a ton about it, not because Diop failed to include important information, but because he intrigued me so much that I needed to know more. That, for me, is the best kind of rabbit hole a novel can send a reader down.

On a linguistic level, Diop masterfully uses cadence and repetition to show the mental descent of the main character. Credit has to go to the translator here as well, because line-by-line this was an excellent read, with the prose perfectly complimenting the content.

Finally, Diop’s representation of the horrors of war are judicious. He never lingers on any one thing, never feels the need to explain that war is an abomination, but he still manages to show readers enough that they have a visceral reaction. This happens on a detail level as far as showing physical injury and death in a brief yet effective manner, but also on a macro level in that the book is pretty short. Few people would want to linger with this material for three or four hundred pages, and being able to finish the whole text in two or three days gave it an intensity without making me feel like I was completely worn down by the experience. It evokes deep empathy without exhaustion.

So then, despite At Night… being a masterful novel on many levels and the translation being of the highest order, why does no one seem to care? I have a few theories. Please take them for what they are—this isn’t research, just my own speculation.

I suspect that few people are in the mood for a story like this right now. We’re just getting over a pandemic, one which maybe isn’t over, and so jumping into another nightmarish situation isn’t really how people want to spend their leisure time. I find that a story like Diop’s puts Covid in a bit of context, but I can see how that wouldn’t necessarily be the case for everyone.

Recent war cinema may also play a role. The excellent film 1917 came out three years ago, and while the narrative is wholly different from At Night… it’s a viewing experience that takes a lot out of a person. Dunkirk is another one here, as is, to a lesser extent when it comes to physical brutality, Darkest Hour.

And then the relative subtlety of Diop’s novel may also play a role. It takes some work to read this—the kind of work I find engages me deeply with a book, but that still requires a good deal of mental energy. I wanted to read the book, and I enjoyed it when I did, and now I’m singing its praises, but even I had to pick a good time to sit down with it. I needed the right mental space, and not everyone comes across that readily.

War plus required effort plus a pandemic equals a lousy time for a book like this to be released, though of course none of that is Diop’s fault.

Finally, I suspect that an African POV plays a role. Honestly, how many readers, even avid readers, can name an African author not called Chinua Achebe? (I’m not counting South African authors like Nadine Gordimer here, as they’re in the more Anglo tradition, though no disrespect to them.) Americans tend to be woefully ignorant of all things Africa, including literature. The reasons why are for a different article.

And do not take this as me feeling like I’m much different. I had to look Senegal up on a map. I had to research its connection with France. But I’m glad I did. And given how deft Diop’s book is, I hope others will follow the same path.

At Night All Blood Is Black is the kind of book you can read in two days. It will give you an emotional gut punch, and leave your mind frayed, but you’ll be glad it did. Like the best books, this one will make any reader’s world view a little bit wider. It’s just a shame more people don’t know much about it.

Get At Night All Blood is Black at Bookshop or Amazon

Joshua Isard

Review by Joshua Isard

Joshua Isard is the author of a novel, Conquistador of the Useless (Cinco Puntos Press), and his stories have appeared in numerous journals including The Broadkill Review, New Pop Lit, and Cleaver. He studied at Temple University, The University of Edinburgh, and University College London.

Joshua directs Arcadia University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife, two children, and two cats.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

Hemins532's picture
Hemins532 October 12, 2022 - 3:06pm

Wow! you did an amazing review of the Book. I am a reviewer at eco friendly detergents and I am really impressed by your writing style and I am onto implementing on my own projects reviews. Thank you for this. I am for sure going to read this book sooner just because of your review, I really don't like this particular author but for your review's sake I will take the sip down my throat! 

MorganGwen's picture
MorganGwen November 8, 2022 - 1:27am

There are friends that really want you to be like them thank you my friend for telling me about Dr Ayoola. I was introduced to Dr Ayoola by my friend. me and my friend have been playing lottery games for some years now. and we are always running out of luck. One day my friend play and win. And I was surprise how my friend won the sun of 10 million euro I was asking him questions and he open up to me and told me it was by the help of Dr Ayoola so I ask him to help me. My friend gave me the contact of this great man call Dr Ayoola I contacted him and told him why I contacted him and also tell  him I got  his information form my friend. To cut the long story short Dr Ayoola help me with a winning number just as he did for my friend and I was able to won 13 million euro all thanks to you Dr Ayoola for your kind heart and for willing to help me and my friend I will for ever grateful to you sir because you have done what on one can do for me. You can contact him today and be the next to testify. this man is good when it come to giving winning numbers I will drop his details just Incase you need him to help you thank you sir you can contact him via  drayoolasolutionhome@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Ayoola-105640401516053/ text or call +14809032128

joshbuster53's picture
joshbuster53 November 15, 2022 - 2:28am

All  thank to Dr Ayoola, My name is Josh Buster I live in California, I want to let the world know how this man changed my life and that of my family. I have been playing jackpot for so many years now hoping to win and start my own business, I have been a driver and same time I have being playing lottery game for more than 10 years now each time I play I always run out of luck. one day I was browsing with my phone when I saw some testimonies about this man call Dr Ayoola on how he has helped people win lottery games, I was shook and I ask myself if this is true and also contacted this man for help and told him everything, why I contacted him. He asked me if I have been playing lottery game before now and I said yes. He told me that he will help me with the right number to win if only we work together which I told him I am ready to work with him. After working with him he gave me a number to play, after playing the number Dr Ayoola gave to me, I came out a winner of jackpot of 1,000,000 millions dollars  all thanks to you Dr Ayoola for your help I am so happy now. And now I am fulfilling my promise by sharing your good work to the world. Dr Ayoola is  a great man and a man GOD has sent to help people and put a smile on peoples face. Thank you for what you have done for me Dr Ayoola I will be for ever grateful to you, you can contact him if you are willing to change your story for good via  drayoolasolutionhome@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Ayoola-105640401516053/ text or call +14809032128

Morning Gossip's picture
Morning Gossip November 15, 2022 - 3:54pm

MORNING'S GOSSIP:

Post From Ali Syed, From the UK Cryptocurrency Recovery, Lost BTC Recovery

Hello, my name is Ali Syed. I got scammed

Immediately, I contacted ULTIMATE HACKER JERRY & I trusted him because his reviews were from our local guild WILDER NEWTON. & within 4 hours of contacting him, I got all my funds back with an ROI. It was unbelievable. I must state, I had to send out my review also. He's indeed recommendable.

Contact:.

(Ultimatehackerjerry@seznam. cz)

WhatsAp (+15,51,20,2-2,3-3,5)

Ma Sha Allah

Annette Mylan's picture
Annette Mylan November 22, 2022 - 3:26am

Now You Can Stop Your Break Up, Divorce or Lovers Rejection…Even If Your Situation Seems Hopeless! I contacted a real spell caster DR Prince that helped me change my husband’s heart to love and want me again, and he really did and now we are very happy together. If you are here and your Lover is turning you down I will advise you to contact DR Prince . The potency of his spell is so effective and can reunite broken relationships and can also make one get pregnant no matter the situation and not only that, he also has the power to cure all types of diseases within the period of 48hours. I am a great testimony. Contact him today and thank me later. You can also contact him on WHATSAPP: +18144484537  EMAIL:  obinnaspelltemple@yahoo.com website   https://obinnaspelltemple.com