Reviews of Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Afterlives

A Novel

by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah X
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Aug 2022, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Chloe Pfeiffer
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, a sweeping, multi-generational saga of displacement, loss, and love, set against the brutal colonization of East Africa.

When he was just a boy, Ilyas was stolen from his parents on the coast of East Africa by German colonial troops. After years away, fighting against his own people, he returns home to find his parents gone and his sister, Afiya, abandoned into de facto slavery. Hamza, too, returns home from the war, scarred in body and soul and with nothing but the clothes on his back--until he meets the beautiful, undaunted Afiya. As these young people live and work and fall in love, their fates knotted ever more tightly together, the shadow of a new war on another continent falls over them, threatening once again to carry them away.

1

Khalifa was twenty-six years old when he met the merchant Amur Biashara. At the time he was working for a small private bank owned by two Gujarati brothers. The Indian-run private banks were the only ones that had dealings with local merchants and accommodated themselves to their ways of doing business. The big banks wanted business run by paperwork and securities and guarantees, which did not always suit local merchants who worked on networks and associations invisible to the naked eye. The brothers employed Khalifa because he was related to them on his father's side. Perhaps related was too strong a word but his father was from Gujarat too and in some instances that was relation enough. His mother was a countrywoman. Khalifa's father met her when he was working on the farm of a big Indian landowner, two days' journey from the town, where he stayed for most of his adult life. Khalifa did not look Indian, or not the kind of Indian they were used to seeing in that part of the world. ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Gurnah's playing the long game here; the more important effect is the cumulative one. Like in life, watershed moments are buried deep within paragraphs; plotlines are dropped and forgotten until hundreds of pages later. Sometimes the book rushes through years and distance so quickly that the narration seems breathless, and yet, without any big dramatic moments, the world feels static—like when you're on a plane and you look at the motionless squares of land beneath you. I think there's something about this slow-moving portrait that allows Gurnah to capture the complexity and enmeshment of colonial relations; he's managed to blur the lines between German colonizers and native Africans without presenting some flipped-script fantasy of moral ambiguity. This is not a tale of mutiny, or of decisive victory, but rather one of preserving one's autonomy in a world of powerful and sustained external forces. I loved Afterlives, and was drawn in fully to its emotional world, which reads like life itself—languid, anticlimactic, ever moving but only gradually changing...continued

Full Review Members Only (916 words).

(Reviewed by Chloe Pfeiffer).

Media Reviews

Lit Hub
A fascinating, necessary novel.

New York Times Book Review
Superb...[Gurnah] is a novelist nonpareil, a master of the art form who understands human failings in conflicts both political and intimate — and how these shortcomings create afflictions from which nations and individuals continue to suffer, needlessly, generation after generation.

TIME
A rich, detailed tapestry... . three separate storylines tangle together to probe the violence of European colonialism.

Washington Post
At once a globe-spanning epic of European colonialism and an intimate look at village life in one of the many overlooked corners of the Earth. Both parts — reclamations of history and heart — are equally revelatory...Gurnah's greatest act of love and artistry [is] his ability to gather the fragments of broken lives and create a breathtaking mosaic in print.

BookPage
Filled with human compassion and historical insight...A captivating, engrossing and edifying work of fiction.

Good Housekeeping
This lyrical novel delves into the scars left by war, not just on the body and mind, but family and society too. We come to know and love Ilya and his sister Afiya, her lover Hamza, and the lives they're desperately trying to create even as cascading conflicts threaten to tear them apart.

The Times (UK)
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.

Booklist (starred review)
Breathtaking...Gurnah constructs a remarkable portrait of tenderness, deep affection, and longing that stretches over time and across continents...Absorbing, powerful, and enduring, Afterlives is an extraordinary reading experience by one of the great writers of our time.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Gurnah's novel pairs well with Cameroon writer Patrice Nganang's novel A Trail of Crab Tracks as a document of the colonial experience, and it is impeccably written. A novel with an epic feel, even at 320 pages, building a complex, character-based story that stretches over generations.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[R]iveting...Gurnah's spare, unvarnished prose shines a harsh but honest light on the brutality of Africa's colonial past and the violence inflicted by Europeans, which amounts to 'absurd and nonchalant heroics,' and through his rich main characters, the impact of colonialism and other key global events truly hits home. This profound account of empire and the everyman is not to be missed.

Library Journal
Will appeal to aficionados of historical fiction but could leave others yearning for a deeper understanding of the characters' motivations for their sometimes inexplicable actions. Still, the Nobel Prize bestowed renewed international acclaim on Gurnah's body of work, making this novel a must-have.

Author Blurb Aminatta Forna, author of Happiness
To read Afterlives is to be returned to the joy of storytelling as Gurnah takes us to the place where imagined lives collide with history.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Abdulrazak Gurnah

Black-and-white photo of Abdulrazak Gurnah Abdulrazak Gurnah, the Tanzanian-born British author of Afterlives, is the 2021 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the first Black writer to win it since Toni Morrison in 1993. He was awarded the prize "for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents."

Gurnah is understandably interested in postcolonialism and displacement. He grew up in Zanzibar, an island off the east coast of Africa, when it was a British protectorate and a sultanate (now it is part of Tanzania). In January 1964, a leftist revolt overthrew the sultanate to establish a republic, which ended the power of the Arab ruling class over the majority-African ...

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