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.
"Beguiling . . . Diop realizes the full nature of war—that theater of macabre and violent drama—on the page. He takes his character into the depths of hell and lets him thrive there . . . As violent and disturbing as these encounters are, they are rendered with such artistic grace that one derives a strange pleasure in reading about even the bloodiest of nights . . . By the time we reach its shocking yet ultimately transcendent ending, the story has turned into something mystical, esoteric; it takes a cyclic shape. At its core, the book is about how a man tries to understand primal, ethical questions about those on the other side of the front line . . . More than a century after World War I, a great new African writer is asking these questions in a spare yet extraordinary novel about this bloody stain on human history."—Chigozie Obioma, The New York Times Book Review
"Heartbreaking and poetic . . . [At Night All Blood Is Black] addresses a story woefully absent from French history books—the inner life of African troops who fought in the French trenches in the first world war."—Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian
"One could recommend this novella by its name alone. Fortunately, what its evocative and ominous title hints at—a dark story told in lyrical prose—is more than delivered on in David Diop’s rhythmic, enchanting fiction (expertly translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis) . . . More than anything [Diop] shows just how slippery the self can be when individuals are placed within extraordinary, violent circumstances."—The A.V. Club
"This novel is a wonder. Written in a simple, almost naive, yet astonishing style, it speaks of the tragedy of the trenches with a moving delicacy. This is no war novel, but a book on what Montaigne called 'the solder of brotherhood.'"—Tahar Ben Jelloun, Le Point
"David Diop here erects a beautiful monument to the Senegalese riflemen, and seeks to restore their African dimension; to listen to them, to understand them."—Mathias Énard, Le Monde
"David Diop’s All Blood is Black at Night is an unrelenting take on war, race, masculinity, and colonialism. Most of all, Diop’s short, sharp, and serrated novel is a visceral dramatization of how our humanity and inhumanity are forever intertwined."—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Sympathizer
"An extraordinary novel, full of sadness, rage and beauty."—Sarah Waters, author of The Little Stranger
"David Diop's At Night All Blood Is Black is a particularly pertinent reflection on the evils of war, as well as a profound exploration of the human soul."—J.M.G. Le Clézio, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
"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 . . . A searing, eye-opening tale of innocence destroyed.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Musical . . . Harrowing . . . The novel veers toward a transcendent ending . . . Diop’s second novel is scalding, mesmerizing, and troubling in the best way. Highly recommended."—Library Journal (starred review)
"[A] harrowing, nimbly translated English-language debut . . . Diop is sure to earn readers with this feverish exercise in psychological horror.”—Publishers Weekly
… I KNOW, I UNDERSTAND, I shouldn’t have done it. I, Alfa Ndiaye, son of the old, old man, I understand, I shouldn’t have. God’s truth, now I know. My thoughts belong to me alone, I can think what I want. But I won’t...