Book Review: Blood is Dirt
‘Blood’s dirt,’ he laughed, looking away
Far off to where his wound had bled
And almost merged for ever into clay.
‘The world is washing out its stains,’ he said.
‘It doesn’t like our cheeks so red:
Young blood’s its great objection.
But when we’re duly white-washed, being dead,
The race will bear Field-Marshal God’s inspection.’
Wilfred Owen, WWI poet.
I came across this great bit of verse by Wilfred Owen while reading Blood is Dirt, a 1997 novel by Robert Wilson: Wilson’s tale of toxic waste, politics and murder in West Africa is a taut if conventional thriller set in Benin. Tightly written, edgy, with lots of sex and violence, some insight into Nigerian and Beninois society and hair raising tales of how white ex-pats operate on the ‘dark continent’, the tone is very British with shades of Greeneland, though the book lacks real emotional depth and the reviewers comparing Wilson to Raymond Chandler are clearly overdoing it.
But it is really the quote by Owen that gave the novel its title that grabbed me. Superb, and at the time hardly in tune with Britain’s patriotic war fever. War poets are a thing of the past of course, but as the UK is finding evernew excuses to engage militarily in poverty stricken nations around the world – from Afghanistan to Lybia, perhaps a new generation of writers exposing the true human cost of armed conflict is needed.