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Publisher's Summary

WINNER OF THE 2021 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction

"Astonishingly good." (Lily Meyer, NPR)

"So incantatory and visceral I don’t think I’ll ever forget it." (Ali Smith, The Guardian) | Best Books of 2020

One of The Wall Street Journal's 11 best books of the fall | One of The A.V. Club's 15 best books of 2020 | A Sunday Times best book of the year

Selected by students across France to win the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, David Diop’s English-language, historical fiction debut At Night All Blood is Black is a “powerful, hypnotic, and dark novel” (Livres Hebdo) of terror and transformation in the trenches of the First World War.

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.

©2018 David Diop. Translation © 2020 by Anna Moschovakis. (P)2020 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"Dion Graham's haunting narration reveals the heartbreaking costs paid by soldiers who experience the horror of trench warfare.… This is a gut-punch of an audiobook, made all the more affecting by Graham's intense and emotionally resonant delivery." - AudioFile Magazine

"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)

"[A] harrowing, nimbly translated English-language debut . . . Diop is sure to earn readers with this feverish exercise in psychological horror.” - Publishers Weekly 

What listeners say about At Night All Blood Is Black

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Powerful story!!!

Diop has written a powerful story about the impact of war on soldiers. Highly recommend!

4 people found this helpful

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Amazing beginning!

Diop takes off like a rocket, driving the reader through the violent career of the protagonist Alfa, with a rhythm like a jazz riff, a combination of staccato prose and short repetitive bursts as he tells his story.

The second part of the book is a little disappointing, however, as Alfa tries to explain and justify his actions. His feelings and memories are interesting enough but I found the change in tempo disconcerting.

It was a fascinating read, though, and well deserving of its acclaim in France. The narration was perfect in its conveyance of the character’s mood. Three and a half stars.

4 people found this helpful

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Brilliant and Horrific

Diop's second novel is beautiful and ugly, horrible and wonderful. It is a brief afternoon that will haunt you for a month. This slow decent into madness is a fantastic illustration of the dynamic reality of human nature, the inhumanity of war, and the corruption of laws that bring us there. It touches on issues of trauma, cognitive instability, colonialism, rape, war, brotherhood, tradition, and an array of topics I probably missed. It is a must read for those willing to step into the shadow of our fallible nature.

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not bad but not great

I chose this because it was on President Obama's 2021 list of book recommendations. The writing style was different and content pretty gory. I think some of the intent went over my head... I'd love to hear someone else's take. I'm glad I listened to it.

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Great performance and fabulous tale.

Very creative storytelling and character development. The voice is truly believable and engaging. Good book.

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Compelling story, poor narration

I had to stop halfway & buy a physical copy. The story is compelling but the author’s last name and almost every Senegalese name was mispronounced. Please give narrators help with pronunciation. Sounds nitpicking but narrator use ‘African accent 101’ which I found distracting knowing a francophone Senegalese accent I recommend a physical copy & hope narrators receive more guidance.

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Brutal but Poetic

Many war novels make me squirm from the explicit violence. This novel is no exception, yet it’s different, because the language of violence becomes almost poetic as the tale progresses. The main character is a Senegalese villager serving with French troops in World War I. He narrates his tale of brutality and death as if he were sitting with comrades under a tree, or perhaps with a sympathetic therapist. The scope of his tale broadens as he describes his childhood in an impoverished village. By the end, the novel takes on mythic tones as he retells a magical African legend. Dion Graham’s narration is perfect, haunting and intense, almost incantatory.

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Brilliant

This is a darkly marvelous story with a fable-like quality to it that you can float through in the course of an afternoon. And yet it sticks with you in unexpected ways. Not for the squeamish.

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Underwhelming use of a great idea

I purchased this book based on the positive reviews and returned it after finishing it (I finished it to see if there was one final sting in the tale). The concept is intriguing--how a person copes with life after the death of their "more than brother" best friend--and it seemed like a quick read in between pre-orders. However, while the narration was excellent, the path the story took was meandering and ultimately pointless. I struggle to appreciate stories with unreliable narrators and the "gotcha" moment towards the end changed how the story was going and seemed like something a university student writes for their thesis: "OK, so the Professor says I have to have a twist so let's add one here that will be MIND-BLOWING and if someone doesn't get it or like it then they aren't smart enough to appreciate the human condition or don't like art."

Ultimately this was a wasted concept that didn't fully tackle the self introspection of losing a friend in the near term or long term endeavors. The reactions of the other soldiers to the protagonist was a good story thread but perhaps this is supposed to encapsulate war life on a personal level and like MacBeth says "is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

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A most disturbing book

This is the first book of thousands that I can honestly say I wish I had never read.