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Afterlives (2020)

by Abdulrazak Gurnah

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
917248,549 (4.23)24
LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL FICTION 2021LONGLISTED FOR THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE 2021'Riveting and heartbreaking ... A compelling novel, one that gathers close all those who were meant to be forgotten, and refuses their erasure' Maaza Mengiste, Guardian'A brilliant and important book for our times, by a wondrous writer' Philippe Sands, New Statesman, Books of the YearWhile he was still a little boy, Ilyas was stolen from his parents by the German colonial troops. After years away, fighting in a war against his own people, he returns to his village to find his parents gone, and his sister Afiya given away.Another young man returns at the same time. Hamza was not stolen for the war, but sold into it; he has grown up at the right hand of an officer whose protection has marked him life. With nothing but the clothes on his back, he seeks only work and security - and the love of the beautiful Afiya. As fate knots these young people together, as they live and work and fall in love, the shadow of a new war on another continent lengthens and darkens, ready to snatch them up and carry them away...'Rarely in a lifetime can you open a book and find that reading it encapsulates the enchanting qualities of a love affair ... One scarcely dares breathe while reading it for fear of breaking the enchantment' The Times… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A Nobel Prize winner, that always creates high expectations. First a few positive comments. Gurnah is a born storyteller, that's clear: he follows a limited number of characters in a more or less chronological story, with a mix of descriptions, dialogues and reflections. So no experiments here, and that in itself is perhaps a relief. On top of that, the entire setting of this novel is quite attractive because little known to white Europeans: the Indies community in East Africa, in the first half of the twentieth century. In scents and colors Gurnah evokes the hard life in this very diverse environment, with roots that reach very far both locally and internationally. And that's refreshing. The perverse influence of Western colonization is also highlighted, with the hard-hearted Germans in particular as the culprits, whilst the British come off remarkably mildly.
Then the downsides. This book lacks focus: especially in the beginning Gurnah jumps from protagonist to protagonist, concentrating mainly on the tormented Hamza, an African volunteer in the German colonial corps; his story is captivatingly portrayed. But in the end, Gurnah suddenly falls into a dry summary of Hamza's son's efforts to track down the uncle he is named after, a search that leads him into the past of Nazi-Germany. This break in style is weird, as if Gurnah couldn't quite finish his narration.
So this certainly not is a bad book, but it has a number of issues. I have to admit I was slightly underwhelmed, given that Nobel Prize. ( )
  bookomaniac | Apr 22, 2022 |
This novel, set in the context of German East Africa, during and after the First World War, is at heart an engaging love story. The opening provides a back story, covering a lot of time and many characters in a few pages, but as the pace settles down and we follow the lives of the main protagonists, Abdulrazak Gurnah weaves a compelling story, with colourful detail and believable scenarios. The focal point, a delicate love affair between Hamza and Afiya, becomes ever more powerful in the final third of the book, before a somewhat rushed ending - albeit with an unexpected, shocking, denouement. As an infrequent reader of fiction, this was a beautifully written and affecting tale. ( )
  DramMan | Apr 17, 2022 |
4.5 ⭐
Despite feeling quite emotional as I finished the book, something held me back from a full 5⭐ rating. I think it's Gurnah's occasional zooming out, looking at the lives of his characters from above, and taking a sweep of years in a few paragraphs, before zooming back into their hearts and minds. Nothing about it is bad, but it just lifted me out of the emotional intimacy he is excellent at, and for that moment placed me as an historical observer. Still, he won the Nobel Prize, so what do I know!

The story shifts focus between interlinked main characters, rarely losing sight of any of them, while deftly moving from one to the other. Some horrors of child cruelty, poverty, oppression and of war, and some heartwarming moments of love, loyalty and tenderness. If the climax of the story was somewhat telegraphed, the final sentence was devastating. ❤💔❤ ( )
1 vote Michael.Rimmer | Feb 13, 2022 |
The latest novel by last year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is set in the former colony of German East Africa, or Deutsch-Ostafrika, beginning in the immediate aftermath of the Maji Maji Rebellion (1905-07), in which an armed insurrection by local residents against harsh demands and working conditions imposed on them by the colonists was met with brutal and overwhelming force, and the resultant genocide by the Germans cost approximately 300,000 Africans their lives.

Khalifa is a half African, half Indian young man who is hired as a bookkeeper by a cunning and largely unscrupulous merchant in a port city in German East Africa. After he agrees to marry the niece of the merchant, a match which benefitted the merchant but did not bring happiness to Khalifa or his new wife, he meets and befriends a younger man, Ilyas, who enters town with a letter of recommendation by his German overseer. Ilyas was orphaned at a young age and rescued from bondage by his master, who taught him both the language and the customs of the mother country. Once he is settled Ilyas returns to his home village and rescues his beautiful younger sister, Afiya, from the family who has kept her as little more than a house servant. After the two settle in a peaceful existence in town Ilyas suddenly decides to enlist as a soldier in the schutztruppe, the colonial troops which were tasked to crush any rebellious activities or behaviors by the resentful and downtrodden subjects of the Germans. Afiya is left unprotected, but is rescued from a life of abuse and bondage by Khalifa and his wife Asha.

The schutztruppe in German East Africa is used to fight against the askari, Africans of other countries who were often forcibly recruited to engage in war against enemy colonies during the First World War, under inhuman conditions and with heavy loss of life. One survivor of the war is Hamza, who returns to the port city that he escaped from by joining the schutztruppe. He is hired by the son of the merchant who employed Khalifa, and he gradually gets to know, and ultimately fall in love with, Afiya, who remains unmarried and available.

The primary focus of Afterlives is the growing relationship between Afiya and Hamza, and their story is beautifully conveyed by the author, with rich portrayals of the young lovers and the other major characters in the novel. The brutality of colonial rule under the Germans between the end of the Maji Maji Rebellion and the end of World War I is also compelling and evocative, particularly Hamza’s often harsh treatment by his commanding officers. However, the end of the book is quite rushed, underdeveloped and somewhat unconvincing, as if Gurnah wanted to be done with the book. As a result I knocked down my rating of Afterlives by half a star to four stars, but it is still a superb novel and one well worth reading. ( )
2 vote kidzdoc | Feb 2, 2022 |
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Khalifa was twenty-six years old when he met the merchant Amur Biashara.
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As the askari told their swaggering stories and marched across the rain-shadow plains of the great mountain, they did not know that they were to spend years fighting across swamps and mountains and forests and grasslands, in heavy rain and drought, slaughtering and being slaughtered by armies of people they knew nothing about: Punjabis and Sikhs, Fantis and Akans and Hausas and Yorubas, Kongo and Luba, all mercenaries who fought the Europeans’ wars for them, the Germans with their schutztruppe, the British with their King’s African Rifles and the Royal West African Frontier Force and their Indian troops, the Belgians with their Force Publique.
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LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL FICTION 2021LONGLISTED FOR THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE 2021'Riveting and heartbreaking ... A compelling novel, one that gathers close all those who were meant to be forgotten, and refuses their erasure' Maaza Mengiste, Guardian'A brilliant and important book for our times, by a wondrous writer' Philippe Sands, New Statesman, Books of the YearWhile he was still a little boy, Ilyas was stolen from his parents by the German colonial troops. After years away, fighting in a war against his own people, he returns to his village to find his parents gone, and his sister Afiya given away.Another young man returns at the same time. Hamza was not stolen for the war, but sold into it; he has grown up at the right hand of an officer whose protection has marked him life. With nothing but the clothes on his back, he seeks only work and security - and the love of the beautiful Afiya. As fate knots these young people together, as they live and work and fall in love, the shadow of a new war on another continent lengthens and darkens, ready to snatch them up and carry them away...'Rarely in a lifetime can you open a book and find that reading it encapsulates the enchanting qualities of a love affair ... One scarcely dares breathe while reading it for fear of breaking the enchantment' The Times

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