Genre: fiction, historical fiction, war
Key Stage: KS4/5 (the novel contains harrowing and brutal imagery and scenes of violence which some readers may find disturbing so would recommend for older readers and conducting independent research too).
At Night All Blood is Black, David Diop (first published in French in 2018)
Winner of the International Booker Prize 2021
Alfa and Mademba are two Senegalese soldiers fighting in the First World War. The story is set in France on the front line and is about how much the war can change people. The book explains how Alfa copes with the death of Mademba Diop, who is more than brother than a friend. It talks about the effect the death of a friend has on Alfa; he changes into someone that would probably be unrecognizable to his friends and family back home in his small town, Gandiol. He starts to change in the most dramatic ways: he is not only viewed as a savage on the battle field but is now viewed as a savage everywhere he goes. His trench comrades used to think of him as a hero but he is now seen as a demon.
In the book you realise just how hard it was for the people who came from different countries to fight in the war. For instance, the captain would speak a completely different language to the soldiers which really would go against their advantage. In telling the soldiers when to cross over the trenches, the captain would blow his whistle, announcing to the other side that we were coming. The detail that the author uses to describe some of the objects and people was very intriguing and did make you look more into depth about what he meant and the way he wrote was very poetic and captivating. The book was very brutal but yet there was still a sense of beauty behind the words.
Within the story Alfa says “For everyone, for the soldiers both black and white I have become death”. This statement is very striking: it implies that people’s views can change in the way that they see you, the smallest things you do can change the way that people look at you, it changes their whole perspective of you. The war changes people in the most extreme and unimaginable ways, as you can see from the statement above, his friends in the trenches started to fear Alfa. They start to fear Alfa for the things that he was doing, and for the person he had become.
I really enjoyed the book I found it quite interesting how the war affected people both physically and psychologically. The style in which the author wrote was very intriguing and did make you ask what was he referring and talking about. Overall, I would highly recommend this book.
Reviewer: Aarian Rexha