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Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah


If you enjoy reading Ernest Hemingway's stories from Africa, there is no doubt that you will be delighted when you read Abdulrazak Gurnah's stories. Abdulrazak Gurnal is the author of 10 English-Language novels and a Nobel Prize in Literature, winner in 2021…He is from Zanzibar, Tanzania, and has resided in the UK since the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. His novels include Map Reading (2022), Afterlives (2020), Grave Heart (2017), The Last Gift (2011), Desertion (2005), By the Sea (2001), Admiring Silence (1996), Paradise (1994), Dottie (1990), The Pilgrims Way (1988).


My takeaways from the Afterlives:

So far, of his books, I have only read Afterlives. Afterlives is immensely exhilarating but also disturbing and sorrowful as you go deeper into the portrayal of the main characters' lives, Afiya and Ilyas. Through their life encounters, the reader will experience human wickedness and the miseries it creates, life in a disrupted society, and the struggle to keep living as much and as long as one can…


Afterlives is set in East Africa in the 19th century during the period of New Imperialism following the scramble for Africa. The unexplored African continent was occupied and partitioned into European power- territories/colonies, protectorates, and free-trade areas. There were Germans, the British, the French, the Portuguese, the Arabs, and whoever was awarded part of Africa during the Belin Conference. With the European invasion of East Africa, the culture and history of the native people and their places were forever changes-there were sufferings, rebellions, suppression, and exploitation.


The novel focus on enduring brutal treatment during the colonialism era, like Afiya with her abusive uncle/caregiver and even losing his brother to war, and or the native people sufferings from European atrocities.


The author articulately showcased a place and time where life, customs, and culture-people living their lives as they knew it and as they best could, even when the external forces disrupted and conspired to destroy them and their traditional societal norms. His mixing native Kiswahili language in the book is hilarious, even if you don't know or speak Kiswahili.

Afya, in the book, endured unthinkable loss and abuse. First left to become an orphan before she was rescued by the people she referred to as uncle and caregiver, only to be enslaved, suffer both physical and emotional abuse and trauma of not knowing her family. When Afiya found out she had a brother Ilyas, she never knew she had, her joy did not last because that too, will leave her with a lifelong trauma when his brother Ilyas volunteered to fight with Germans when the conflict and wars broke among the Europeans and never heard back from him again.


Generally speaking, Afya experiences hell on earth, but also she has some sweet happy moments, like finding out she has a brother and her brother rescuing her from the abusive caregiver, or when she meets Hamza and falls in love with Hamza, who has his share of misfortunes just like Afya, but together they complete one another-they got married, have a child named after Afiya’s bother Ilyas, who brought much joy and fear to their lives…


Through Afterlives, the author brought the unfinished stories from the African continent to the center stage once again… this time, African characters, in all their rich humanity, hospitality, humor, and even their comedy, regardless of their sufferings and atrocities against them, they endured and persevered.




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