READ FOR BOOKCLUB
Chosen by Rachel
❝ Alfa and his ‘more than brother’ Mademba are Senglese, fighting for the French in World War I. Seen as ‘chocolate soldiers’ they are considered able to scare the life out of the enemy. After Mademba is fatally wounded and Alfa is morally unable to put him out of his suffering, Alfa undertakes revenge on the blue-eyed enemy, stealthily advancing on them after dark, under cover, and mutilating them.
Though grim, the book has a deeply psychological nature. Alfa’s madness and his deep connection with Madema have blurred lines, introducing the theme of duality, which is reinforced in several ways. Comparisons between the beauty of the body and love are offset against the grotesqueness of war. The moon as God’s witness, watches over all the crimes, including Alfa’s inability to help his friend, and his callous killings of the young German soldiers.
Published originally in 2018 in French, the book won the International Booker Prize in 2021 for translated works.
Temporary madness makes it possible to forget the truth about bullets. Temporary madness, in war, is bravery’s sister. But when you seem crazy all the time, continuously, without stopping, that’s when you make people afraid, even your war brothers.
❝ This is a short book and opens with Mademba trying to scoop his glistening bowels back into his open gut and begging for his throat to be slit. It is a visceral book, with so many bodily functions and parts highly detailed, the guts on the ground, a women’s sex, a severed hand, somehow develop the characters in a way an excess of words probably couldn’t. I loved this book. It was a slap in the face from the outset and used a unique way to build plot, character and tension and to portray a lesson in morality. I also loved the ending. I thought it was perfect for this tale. –Rachel
❝ Although this book had many moments of horror I read it hungrily as the main character enacted vengeance time and time again for the suffering of someone close to him. This was done partly to assuage his own guilt for his part in the person’s suffering. While collecting severed hands of his victims was a visceral and disturbing way of conveying the particular type of madness and distress he was experiencing, it somehow made so much sense. The author successfully conveyed the absolute futility of war while educating the reader about a time in history I was otherwise ignorant about. A stunning book. –Suzy
❝ The most enjoyable books to me are ones that make me think long after I’ve finished them and that’s exactly what this book did for me. It was not a relaxing read as it was quite brutal and heartbreaking but it did have characters that I felt empathy for and developed some sort of understanding of. Once again I benefited from the research done by Rachel and discovered a deeper meaning to the main characters that had flown over my head (again!) I would be careful when recommending this book as I think it would not be popular due to its violent content. But I loved it. – Jo
Farrar, Straus, Giroux