At Night All Blood is Black – a winner with the GEH Wellbeing Reading Group?

This month our reading group was lucky enough to be chosen by the Reading Agency to read David Diop’s 2021 International Booker Prize winning book At Night All Blood is Black, and whew, what a read it was! A short, accessible book, we all read it quickly, but there the similarities in our experiences ended. Some hated it, others loved it, some appreciated the language, others the historical aspects of the story. None of us were exactly sure of the ending, and we all had lots to talk about in our reading group meeting.

We used lots of descriptive terms when discussing the book. Shocking, brutal, strange came up regularly. Some of our number were entranced by the language, likening the repetition through the book to poetry. We all appreciated the quality of the translation- the language used was evocative and despite being translated, retained a flavour of the protagonist’s African roots. We could see it being studied and analysed in university literature courses.

Some were glad they’d read it, although it wasn’t something most of us would have normally picked up . Others enjoyed the start more than the confusion of the end of the book, finding the descent into madness difficult to read. We enjoyed the historical notes, and many of us want to know more about the colonial contribution to World War 1. One of our members linked the book to trips to WW1 battlefields in Europe. It was certainly an aspect of the war we were not previously as aware of as we might have been.

Discussions ranged from the loss expressed in the novel to whether we the liked the translated title- we thought the French title (directly translated as Soul Brother) to be more apt. We had no shortage of discussion material despite it being a short book.

Our final thoughts were of a reader’s observation that the reasons she liked the reading group is the variety of books we read, that we would never otherwise pick up, and the different views and approach to each book by the group members. We agree, disagree, change one another’s points of view, and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.