My mother once told me her grandfather, who she never saw, fought in one of the angrez's war. Other great-uncles and men from the village also fought in the war. She doesnt know which war it was, but I assume it was the First World War, where thousands of young..
...men from the martial races of India (Pashtun, Sikhs, Gurkhas) were recruited, hastily trained and transported to the European theater of war.
Being made to go into war for your own survival is bad enough already but fighting someone else's war is just...sad and fucked up.
This is a story about a Senegalese Chocolat soldier Alfa Ndiaye (who fought for the French) against the Germans in the trench wars of WW1,who very early on in the story is besieged on the battlefield by his fatally-injured best friend and fellow soldier Diop to mercy-kill
...him to end his misery, after Diop's guts spill out of his stomach and blood streams out of his body leaving him to do a slow painful death. Unable to help his friend die, Alfa descends into a frenzy of guilt and madness, spiralling out of control.
He sets about to revenge his friend's life by inventing a macabre ritual. Every attack-day when the siren to leave the trench and attack the enemy lines are rung, he breaches into the enemy trenches, waits until it gets dark and hunts down an isolated German soldier, who he then
...proceeds to kill brutally, choking and draining life out of him, mercilessly, following which he dismembers his arm and takes it back to his trench as a souvenir.
At first Alfa is hailed by the French and his fellow African soldiers as a fearless hero and recommended for a
...medal, but soon the number of hands start piling up. By the fourth hand, they start worrying. When Alfa brings back his 7th hand, they are scared shitless. Alfa is feared. Considered a beast, a savage, a Demm (a destroyer of souls) and avoided like a plague.
Fear spreads in the French lines as the legend of the Demm spreads and the Captain decides to send Alfa back to the back-lines to cool it off.During which time we read Alfa and Diops back story of growing up in an agrarian West African village, dreams of becoming a French citizen
...after the war and Alfa's first sexual encounter with the village chief's daughter. During the recuperation period at the hospital in the back lines, an increasingly unhinged and out of control Alfa starts to liken the good French Doctor's Daughter who happens to be a nurse
...at the hospital to the village chief's daughter, his first love. One night he sneaks into her quarter, and while the narrative becomes disjointed and disturbing, apparently he rapes and kills her.
This is a hell of a story of the madness of war,told in harrowing, disturbing
...brutally unsettling detail, putting spotlight on nameless, faceless African Chocolat soldiers (half a million) of them, made to fight by the exploitative and criminal French empire.
Stories of the WW1 are white. So are the movies. This is a welcome addition, albeit one that
...leaves you shaken, jarred and unnerved.
For a sparse little book (140 pages which can be read in one sitting),it is one of the most memorable things I have read in recent years and I dont quite dispute it getting the International Booker Prize for 2021 but what I have...
...qualms with is bad sex and the unnecessary use of sexual metaphors like likening the trenches to the genitals of women. I am no prude, and I do not have a problem with some sex thrown in for traction in the story, but bad sex depiction is just bad sex depiction and did not ..
...quite fit in in the story for me. Moist, warm and wet is alright but isn't that a bit cliched?
Nonetheless, it is a tremendously powerful story about the brutality of war, what it can do to young men (Alfa and Diop are 20) and about one man's downward spiral into madness.
My mother's grand-father's story though (like those of tens of thousands of Indians who fought in the First World War) remains untold.
Trigger warning: graphic violence and brutality, strong sexual language, disturbing scenes of death.