In David Diop’s accomplished first novel, 1889, l’Attraction universelle (2012), a funny thing happens to the Senegalese delegation at the World Fair in Paris. After two of their number ‘wander off’, the French authorities send the whole lot packing. They’re in Bordeaux, awaiting repatriation, when a député decides to make a present of them to a circus owner ‘plagued by bad luck’. The prose is august and the omniscient narration has a wry elegance.
Consisting of an extended interior monologue, Diop’s International Booker Prize-winning second novel, At Night All Blood is Black, couldn’t be more different from his previous book in style, structure and tone. Like the earlier work, however, this new one deals, in large part, with the grotesque, soul-damaging roles colonised people were forced to play in France’s imperial drama.
Short and recursive, the story is filtered through the fractured psyche of Alfa Ndiaye, a young Senegalese tirailleur, or infantryman, who follows his boyhood friend Mademba Diop from their desperately poor village into the inferno of the Western Front. The book opens at pace, with an outpouring of self-condemnation and