cover image At Night All Blood Is Black

At Night All Blood Is Black

David Diop, trans. from the French by Anna Moschovakis. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (160p) ISBN 978-0-374-26697-4

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. (Oct.)