1st Edition

Decolonizing the Memory of the First World War The Poetics and Politics of Centenary Interventions

By Anna Branach-Kallas Copyright 2024

    Decolonizing the Memory of the First World War contributes to the imperial turn in First World War studies.

    This book provides an exploration of the ways in which war memory can be appropriated, neglected and disabled, but also “unlearned” and “decolonized”. The book offers an analysis of the experience of soldiers of colour in five novels published at the centenary of the First World War by David Diop, Raphaël Confiant, Fred Khumalo, Kamila Shamsie and Abdulrazak Gurnah, examining the poetics and the politics of the conflict’s commemoration. It explores continuities between WWI and earlier and later eruptions of violence, thus highlighting the long-lasting sequels of the first global conflict in the former French, British and German empires. It thereby asks important questions about the decolonization of the memory of the First World War, its tools, critical potential and limitations.

    The book will appeal to academics and postgraduate students working in postcolonial literatures, postcolonial and decolonial studies, First World War studies, colonial history, human and political geography, as well as readers interested in cultural memory and overlapping legacies of violence.


    Chapter One: Savagery, Epistemic Disobedience and Disabled Memory in At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop

    Chapter Two: Palimpsests of Disaster, Maroonage and the French Republican Discourse in Le Bataillon créole (Guerre de 1914-1918) by Raphaël Confiant

    Chapter Three: Biopolitics, Dreams of Freedom and Multidirectional Memory in Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo

    Chapter Four: Imperial Loyalties, Decolonial Insurgency and Potential History in A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

    Chapter Five: The Colonial Modern, Mimicry and the Aesthetics/Ethics of Incompletion in Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah



    Anna Branach-Kallas is a professor at the Department of Anglophone Literature, Culture and Comparative Studies at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland.

    Here is finally the much-needed book which investigates with insight and astuteness the work of contemporary novelists of colour responding to the First World War and unravelling its tangled ideologies and legacies. Powerful, passionate and perceptive, Decolonizing the Memory of the First World War shows how literature remains a singular force in challenging the colour of war memory, stretching its contours and replacing reductive vocabularies with ever-more difficult questions about ourselves and our pasts. This is a truly wonderful contribution to the conjoined worlds of war, memory and postcolonial studies.

    -Professor Santanu Das, All Souls College, Oxford, UK


    In her sophisticated and fully contextualised decolonial analysis of First World War novels, Anna Branach-Kallas reveals how contemporary authors' evocation of minoritized experiences of war and empire helps us to see afresh the traumatic legacies of the conflict on those who fought it. This book will be of great interest to researchers and students in both literature and history departments.

    -Professor Alison Fell, University of Liverpool, UK

    Combining First World War studies and postcolonial studies, this book makes a vital contribution to countering Eurocentric memories of the Great War. It provides gripping analyses of centenary novels that expose the racial ideologies which have made the experience of coloured colonial soldiers a sadly neglected history.

    -Professor Martin Löschnigg, University of Graz, Austria


    Much as the literature of the First World War has prospered in numerous countries for decades, writers have, to date, largely overlooked contributions by soldiers of colour. Providentially, their previous commitments are now analyzed in two French novels, one British novel, one novel from South Africa and one woman’s Pakistani novel, all of whom, according to Anna Branach-Kallas, share an intention to decolonize their memories of the First World War. 

    -Dr Donna Coates, Associate Professor Emerita, University of Calgary, Canada