David Diop’s novel was much more than a gut-wrenching war tale, recounting the harrowing ordeal and experiences of the protagonist. To me, the book gave a glimpse of the human condition and what one is capable of doing under distressed situations, when rationality and morality seem to appear just as shallow as war and death of innocents.
When a man is distraught and burdened with guilt over the loss of his comrade, his more-than-brother like friend, he is no longer capable, rather, he no longer allows the preachy principles, values and belief system of the society and of his own family to get in the way and stop him from doing what he must now. Whether a man’s actions are right or wrong, only remains subjective—to the humankind, to the nation, to the individual himself.
Perhaps, this is how I interpreted the International Booker Prize winning story. And may be this is what precisely the Senegalese author wanted to express through his poetic, yet straightforward proses.
To portray the emotional turmoil, shame and regret of Alfa Ndiaye, our hero—the story tells us about his transformation and the constant battle between righteousness and what needed to be done. Alfa is traumatized by the thought that he couldn’t decide the right thing, when his friend begged him to end his suffering, and let him go through pain and agony.
The endless chatter inside his mind. The inner voice of guilt and self-blame. The justifications for why he did what he did to his friend. The question between what is humane and what is inhumane remained throughout the narrative. Perhaps the line from the book that says, “Humans are always finding absurd explanations for things,” answers the constant underlying question.
Ultimately, what remains of Alfa and what he becomes is something the reader must explore. But to me, the entire narrative hinged on the morality we nurture, as a society and as humans. We make reason of our actions, good or bad. There is darkness in each of us, capable of doing what we cannot imagine, but we have the power to overcome and nurture it with goodness, love, care, and compassion.
That is the way I understood of this short, fresh story. And if there is more to it or if the author has to say otherwise, then I am yet to discover or read it one more time.
Nonetheless, At Night All Blood Is Black would make for a good weekend read.