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Afterlives Reviews

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah


Abdulrazak Gurnah

4.00 out of 5

5 reviews

Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date: 17 Sep 2020
ISBN: 9781526615855
4 stars out of 5
David Pilling
23 Oct 2020

"Everyone has a story in this subtlety written, yet grand, sweep through German-run colonial times"

The story, which moves between a provincial town in what is now Tanzania and the exercise grounds and battlefields of the German schutztruppe (the German colonial army), is told with an understated economy. Gurnah’s phrasing has a languorous, soothing quality, even if the events described are anything but. Only in the novel’s final, shocking pages does the pace quicken and is the true meaning of the story — or at least one aspect of its meaning — revealed.


4 stars out of 5
3 Oct 2020

"(a) harrowing novel of colonial atrocity"

The story grounds historical fiction in a stolid narrative. There is an element of universality to the proceedings, despite the story anchoring itself temporally and geographically to a specific period in history. Gurnah deftly manages the feat by spiking his stirring indictment of colonial atrocity with the intimate ordinariness of itinerant lives.

3 stars out of 5
30 Sep 2020

"This compelling novel focuses on those enduring German rule in East Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century"

 Building to a riveting and heartbreaking climax, the last chapters holds us enthralled, as Gurnah’s defiant act of reclamation reaches its poignant conclusion. But it is too sudden. It is hard not to wish that the story could slow down and allow us an intimate portrait of Ilyas’s later years – that we could linger here as we do with the other characters. Despite that, Afterlives is a compelling novel, one that gathers close all those who were meant to be forgotten, and refuses their erasure.

4 stars out of 5
27 Sep 2020

" Affecting in its ordinariness, Afterlives is a compelling exploration of the urge to find places of sanctuary"

It’s a sweeping novel – in timespan, but also in the swift strokes with which Gurnah sets out historical details. The pastor tells Hamza, dismissively, “You could tear this page out of human history and it would not make a difference to anything.” But in Gurnah’s novel, the opposite is the case – history doesn’t make a difference, people do. In clean, measured prose, Gurnah zooms in on individual acts of violence (Afiya’s crippling beating by her surrogate father, or, more chillingly, the German officer’s intense watchfulness, leaving Hamza “no choice but to allow himself to be scrutinised at such length, to be viewed as if he were incapable of returning that gaze”) and unexpected acts of kindness.

4 stars out of 5
Nick Rennison
20 Sep 2020

"Hamza and his slow deliverance from his demons ... remain in the memory"

Gurnah, born in Tanzania but long resident in Britain, is the author of nine previous novels, most notably Paradise, which was shortlisted for the 1994 Booker prize. His latest work is largely set in east Africa in the early 1900s. Hamza, the book’s most compelling character, is an unwilling soldier, traumatised by his experiences in the German East Africa forces during the First World War. After the war ends and Britain takes control of the region he achieves gradual redemption through marriage and fatherhood, but questions about the past still linger. Decades pass with disconcerting swiftness as a new generation comes to the fore in the book’s latter pages...