DAVID DIOP’S AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK IS THE WINNER OF THE 2021 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE
In the backdrop of World War I, France sent around 180,000 black soldiers from their colonies into the banality of warfare as weapons- “savages”- against the European troops. David Diop’s novel is written from the shoes of one such young soldier, Alfa Ndiaye, who finds himself on the battlefield as a walking racist stereotype- Chocolat soldier- with a machete in his hand, thrust into the face of horror and atrocities. Alfa’s only source of familiarity and comfort in this no man’s land is promised through his more than a brother, Medemba Diop, his childhood friend, and when the war swallows Medemba’s life inside out, Alfa chooses hope and duty rather than succumbing to his soul brother’s desperate plea of mercy killing. It is this choice that bites his friend into a grave with the weight of unbearable pain and grows arms to pull Alfa down into the descent of madness. War is both the opposite of and the way to peace or so we’ve been taught. But at what cost? Are inhumanity and insanity two fruits in a bowl or the same rot that eats us alive?
Yes, I understood, God’s truth, that on the battlefield they wanted only fleeting madness. Madmen of rage, madmen of pain, furious madmen, but temporary ones. No continuous madmen. As soon as the fighting ends, we’re to file away our rage, our pain, and our fury. Pain is tolerated, we can bring our pain home on the condition that we keep it to ourselves.
The story is unsettling, unnerving, untouched- the reader is another accessory on the battlefield, a tree made to witness the blood without being able to wipe itself clean off of it. How deep do the roots of colonialism and racism reach? How far are they capable of unearthing madness? Alfa’s honest account of guilt, loss, brotherhood, madness and thirst for vindication is a mirror to the horrors of war that brutalises men and their conscience in their quest for survival. The language runs like a lyrical prose even in its most brutal depictions of questions against war and sticks on you like another layer of skin. The question is who benefits out of the peace resulting from war when there are no men left? Or worse, no humanity.
Until a man is dead, he is not yet done being created.
Rightfully deserving of the International Booker Prize 2021, this piece of fine literature is a sharp commentary on the racist regime of colonialism that leaves men hollow from the inside out. Turn on your midnight lamp tonight, lay a pillow against the headboard of your bed, and let this book take you within itself.
God’s truth, each thing carries its opposite within.
by Resham Sharma (featured in Poems India’s Newsletter Issue 1)