In WWI there was a troop of Senegalese riflemen who fought alongside their French colonizers in their war against Germany. These troops were called the Chocolats. Our 1st person narrator, the 20-year old Alfa Ndiaye, joined up with them as did his best friend, Mademba Diop. But Mademba is badly wounded early on. Mademba begs Alfa to slit his throat and put him out of his misery, but Alfa can’t do it. He loves Mademba. And this is the story of how he deals with all that.
At Night All Blood Is Black
By David Diop (France)
Translator Anna Moschovakis
Read by Dion Graham
Rating: 9 / literary-historical
That death affects Alfa deeply. He carries the body back to his unit but has thoughts he would never have had prior. He thinks about the earth’s womb and knows others can know nothing about his thoughts. So he thinks them . The others honor him for bringing Mademba’s body back, but he knows he shouldn’t be honored because he couldn’t put Mademba out of his misery which might have been the more honorable deed. The knowledge that he has caused unimaginable suffering for his friend sets him free to think and do what he will. He is free not to be human when “the voices” say he must. He is now savage
Later, in another battle, a “blue-eyed” enemy is mortally wounded and Alfa can finish the job by actually taking his life and in so doing he honors the man’s dignity and humanity. He then takes the man’s hand which becomes the first of a collection of similar souvenirs. So Alfa collects and hides hands while going mad.
Outwardly he is the same as ever. Inside he thinks his fellow soldiers are idiotic. And no one knows what he thinks and he knows that. The difference is that Alfa became savage for reals. When he goes out to battle Alfa brings back trophies, rifles and the hands of the enemy. His fellow soldiers wonder about the rest of the bodies. But Alfa is free to be an authentic savage – not just to scare the enemy.
The writing is so powerful and meaningful that it enabled me to get past the horrendous violence and terror.
Diop can be very repetitive using the phrases “God’s truth” a LOT and “I swear to you,” as well as “I knew, I understood.” There is definite reason behind the repetition – some languages do that with certain words like many Spanish speakers use the word “verdad” (truth) frequently.
Words Without Borders: https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/book-review/bereaved-soldier-looks-for-revenge-david-diop-at-night-all-blood-is-black
Foreign Policy: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/21/trenches-colonizer-world-war-i-france-senegal-review-david-diop-night-all-blood-is-black/