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At Night All Blood Is Black
Cover of At Night All Blood Is Black
At Night All Blood Is Black
A Novel
Borrow Borrow

*WINNER OF THE 2021 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE*
*ONE OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2021*

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction

Shortlisted for the 2022 DUBLIN Literary Award
"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

Selected by students across France to win the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, David Diop's English-language, historical fiction debut At Night All Blood is Black is a "powerful, hypnotic, and dark novel" (Livres Hebdo) of terror and transformation in the trenches of the First World War.

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.

*WINNER OF THE 2021 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE*
*ONE OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2021*

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction

Shortlisted for the 2022 DUBLIN Literary Award
"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

Selected by students across France to win the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, David Diop's English-language, historical fiction debut At Night All Blood is Black is a "powerful, hypnotic, and dark novel" (Livres Hebdo) of terror and transformation in the trenches of the First World War.

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.

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About the Author-
  • David Diop was born in Paris and was raised in Senegal. He is the head of the Arts, Languages, and Literature Department at the University of Pau, where his research includes such topics as eighteenth-century French literature and European representations of Africa in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His second novel, At Night All Blood Is Black, was awarded the International Booker Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 3, 2020
    Diop’s harrowing, nimbly translated English-language debut takes the form of a 20-year-old Senegalese soldier’s confession of his experience fighting for the French in the trenches during WWI. Alfa Ndaiye, conscripted in exchange for citizenship, spends hours squatting beside his mortally wounded best friend and fellow “Chocolat” Mademba Diop, who begs Ndaiye to show mercy and kill him. Ndaiye cannot bring himself to do so, and his aching regret (“Ah, Mademba! How I’ve regretted not killing you on the morning of the battle, while you were still asking me nicely, as a friend, with a smile in your voice!”) jump-starts a monologue of Ndaiye’s dive into mania. To the disturbance of Ndaiye’s commanding officer, Ndaiye begins claiming spoils from the “blue-eyed enemy”: their rifles and the hands that held them. The white French think he’s a “strange” Chocolat; while his fellow Chocolats call him a “dëmm, a devourer of souls.” It’s an intriguing racial dynamic, though the narrative is a bit aimless until Ndaiye is transferred to a field sanitarium. There, memories of a difficult childhood and delusions of a nurse’s desire for him add depth to Ndaiye’s narration, yet also spur him to commit one final heinous act in a brilliantly handled twist. Diop is sure to earn readers with this feverish exercise in psychological horror.

  • Kirkus

    August 1, 2020
    Alfa Ndiaye, a young Senegalese man recruited into the French army as a rifleman, confronts the madness of World War I and his role in that madness. The book opens on a note of anguish, with Alfa recalling his shameful inability to help his childhood friend Mademba Diop, who was eviscerated on the battlefield. Mademba begged Alfa to end his suffering by slitting his throat, but Alfa couldn't bring himself to do that to his "more-than-brother." Tormented by the failure, Alfa took it out on the enemy by sneaking across "pools of blood" every night to gut German soldiers with his machete. At first, Alfa's fellow "Chocolats," as they were known, were impressed by his boldness and cunning. But his strange practice of bringing back each victim's severed hand with the rifle it fired convinced them he was an evil sorcerer. Alfa, who had never previously stepped outside his village, tells of his beautiful mother, who abandoned him when he was a boy to search for her father, a shepherd, and never returned; Alfa's own father, who had three other wives; and the village chief's daughter, who risked her father's wrath by making love to Alfa before he went off to war because, as he says, "to die without knowing all of the pleasures of the body isn't fair." French West African writer Diop's short but emotionally packed second novel illuminates an underreported chapter in French and Senegalese history. Part folklore, part existential howl, and part prose poem, it is a heartbreaking account of pointless suffering. Ultimately, Alfa is left wondering why his physical power can't translate into "peace, tranquility and calm." Though God is ever present in Alfa's thoughts, he can't help but ask why God "lags behind us." A searing, eye-opening tale of innocence destroyed.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from October 1, 2020

    "God's truth," says Alfa Ndiaye repeatedly, offering unexpected musical cadence to the harrowing tale he relates here. Along with "more-than-brother" Mademba Diop, Alfa is a Chocolat--an African soldier fighting with the French troops during World War I. When Mademba is mortally wounded, Alfa remains with him yet despite Mademba's pleas cannot bring himself to end his suffering. Thereafter, he decries his inhumanity in having dutifully listened to the voices of his ancestors rather than thinking for himself, a theme purveyed throughout the story. To avenge his friend--and exercise the sort of moral strength that initially failed him--Alfa takes to sneaking behind enemy lines at night, capturing a soldier, and cutting off his hand before dispatching him quickly. When he returns with the hands, his fellow soldiers initially greet him with awe but soon avoid him as a d�mm, a devourer of souls. Diop gracefully backtracks to the early friendship of the two men, with Alfa acknowledging his haughty behavior toward Mademba the morning of his death as the novel veers toward a transcendent ending for them both. VERDICT Paris-born, Senegalese-raised Diop's second novel is scalding, mesmerizing, and troubling in the best way. Highly recommended.

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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A Novel
David Diop
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