Esteemed Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah shines a light on Germany's violent history in Africa.
German empire building in early 20th century Africa is a subject not commonly addressed in Western literature. In Afterlives, by Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, the ravages of German colonisation are illuminated in violent detail.
The story starts around 1907 and mostly concentrates on the fortunes and misfortunes of a young man named Hamza. Forced to leave his home, he is conscripted into the Schutztruppe Askaris, native African soldiers who fight in the name of the German empire. As the First World War looms, and European powers fight over their African possessions, Hamza experiences the cruelties and racism of the Germans. Exploited and abused by his superiors, one deranged field officers slashes him with a scabbard and he barely survives.
Afterlives is an eye-opener of a novel, giving a detailed account of the brutal conditions of empire, the racism and exploitation. Gurnah writes a neat and compelling narrative, interweaving a complex and broad cast of characters over several decades. The book does get weighed down a bit in the last third, as it describes Hamza's marriage, but speeds up to a dramatic end.
A scrupulous account of the Germans in Africa.
Afterlives, by Abdulrazak Gurnah. Published by Bloomsbury. $29.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books