Book Review | Secrets of colonialism and exile from the dark heart of Ostafrika

Abdulrazak Gurnah is a novelist and essayist and, judged by Afterlives, his latest novel, he’s a author of fluidity and is imbued with a hauntingly deep sense of the place in writing about japanese Africa, though he has lived in Britain for some 5 a long time since he was a young person. The Tanzanian writer of Arab heritage left his nation for Britain as a refugee and evidently grew right into a author of substance from jotting down the experiences of displacement and exile in a pocket book as he entered maturity.

Given the standard of his prose, and the power of his portraiture that cuts out the frills however dwells on the essence of life’s many turning factors in durations of time made unstable by colonial wars and colonial suzerainty over impoverished peoples — on this case tribal nations of japanese Africa — it’s stunning that Gurnah needed to anticipate industrial success till he discovered renown with the Literature Nobel in 2021. He had printed 9 novels beforehand however gained no main awards.


This is a shock, for Gurnah, as “Afterlives” reveals, shines with limpid prose and brings to the fore the artwork of story-telling which seems to have receded within the final century. And he does so with a misleading linearity.

The novel is ready in Ostafrika, or German East Africa, which was a colony of Germany within the Great Lakes Region of Africa for roughly 4 a long time ending with the Germany’s defeat within the First World War. The e-book is tough to place down.  The reader is pulled in with the eye to element in filling out characters, human relationships, delicate feelings, and in addition the visible image of the places described.


Reading Gurnah is a bit like watching a Ray movie slightly than a Kurosawa or Ghatak. There isn’t any effort to make the image both lingeringly lovely or stark. With felicity, the author adheres to honesty. There is simply understanding offered in layers, with class. The scenario is colonial, the financial system and commerce are colonial, the wars are colonial, and life within the schutztruppe, the navy drive of African recruits who serve underneath German command, is degrading and laden with racial contempt whereas it confers standing in a poor society.


In this novel of some breadth, there aren’t any philosophical detours or sermonising, no rallying cry towards colonialism, and no ethical classes. But there may be an inherent enchantment right here for modernity, logic, training, and an urging to depart behind  superstitions and ritual expressed via the ironies and sarcasms of the character Khalifa. What can be held aloft is the compelling drive of understatement via which is glimpsed the colonial historical past of East Africa.

The complete novel is, in reality, a mild lesson in historical past and a peep into sociology. Black African lives interface with these of Gujarati Indian ancestry, with the latter being the commerce chief and the negro the worker in a easy Islamic neighborhood someplace on Africa’s east coast. The race divide doesn’t set them wholly aside as there may be some mixing of blood and in addition proximity of social and industrial contact. The separation is with the colonizer, the settler white, the European. The topic of patriarchy and gender are additionally touched upon.


The Indian reader is, in reality, apt to be considerably acquainted with cultural transmissions via language and with pre-banking period methods of retailers — via hundi and hawala practices — described right here.

The relationship between the German officer and the schutztruppe askari or soldier Hamza, who’s assigned because the officer’s orderly, is marked with the contrasting feelings of racial violence in addition to concern bordering on suppressed or barely expressed gay love on the officer’s half. This is a grippingly instructed slice of the novel written with minimalist magnificence.


Afterlives covers the cusp of the nineteenth and the 20th centuries however matures in later a long time. Many lives are altered. Dislocation and re-building throughout the colonial framework in German — and later British- East Africa is the fluent theme of the novel. Truly ironical — and tragic — is the story of (the uncle) Ilyas who, as a refugee, ships out to Germany, solely to die in a Nazi focus camp for “defiling” an Aryan girl though he seems to have consorted with the ideology of the rulers. In a twist, that is revealed by (the nephew) Ilyas who, upon Tanzanian independence, visits Germany.


One could learn on this the tortured relationship of the ruler and the dominated. But a marked absence in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s work is that of the gesture or perspective of “Negritude”, the expression coined by Aime Cesaire, the author, poet, politician from Martinique, and the literary motion of the identical title which carried concurrently the options of rejection and assertion.

Afterlives is apt to throw up an fascinating query: Does this novel have a protagonist? There seem like a couple of candidate for this. In the bigger scheme of issues, it’s maybe the exile who’s the protagonist and doesn’t have to be the bearer of a reputation. Not that it issues, however this, in flip, begs the query — is that this a memoiric novel?



By Abdulrazak Gurnah


pp. 275, Rs.699

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