First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
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, little more than a slave to another family. 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.
Spanning from the end of the nineteenth century, when colonizers carved up Africa, on through the tumultuous decades of revolt and suppression that followed, Afterlives is an astonishingly moving portrait of survivors refusing to sacrifice their humanity to the violent forces that assail them.
Always great to meet up with friends who you grew up with, who you knew for more than half of your life. I can’t believe that we’ve been friends for nearly two decades! I can’t believe that we’ve known each other that long and who’d have thought that we’d all end up in the same profession and working in the same city. What’s more amazing is the similarities our world views have. This is despite us coming from contrasting backgrounds. I guess what they say is true. Those who you have been friends with for more than seven years are your friends for life. Anyway, I hope you ended the week on a high note like the way I did. It is finally the weekend! I hope you were able to accomplish everything you set out to accomplish at the start of the week. If it went the other way around, I hope that you will utilize the weekend to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. As the year draws to a close, I hope that your prayers have been answered and all that you’ve worked hard for during the year got repaid. There are still a couple of weeks before we greet a new year. My wish for this Christmas is that everyone will stay healthy, in body, mind, and spirit, despite the challenges surrounding us.
The weekend is also a good time to pursue the things you’re passionate about. For me, it means reading books, writing reviews, and playing tennis. I have been spending a lot of time on the court lately and I am happy because it helps me achieve physical and mental equilibrium. maintain a healthy lifestyle. But before I could pick up the racket, let me cap the workweek with a First Impression Friday update. As I have mentioned in the past bookish updates, I have been focusing on ticking off books from my active reading challenges. Oh, me and my tendency to cram toward the end of the year. Thankfully, I was able to make a lot of breakthroughs in the past three months. I am just two books away from completing my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge while I am one book away from completing my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. Both list share one book: Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, a book I have been pushing book because of its length.
As I have made such huge strides toward my 2022 reading goals, I have allowed myself to ease up a little bit. My current read, 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature awardee Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Afterlives is not a part of any of my reading challenges. However, I have been meaning to read one of Gurnah’s novels ever since he was awarded the prestigious literary prize. I actually obtained two of his works earlier this year but I have been pushing them back. However, on a recent trip to the bookstore, I obtained yet another of his works, Afterlives which I, ironically, started reading. I was planning to read Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride but deemed it too thick, for now.
Anyway, prior to 2021, I have never heard of the Tanzanian-born writer. I am pretty sure it was not only me who was surprised (pleasantly) when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. I would learn more about him in a couple of hours after the announcement. In choosing him for the Prize, the Swedish Committee said he was chosen “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” This was a string of strong words woven together, immediately piquing my interest. Sure enough, it was this heritage of colonialism that was at the fore of Gurnah’s latest novel published a year before his Nobel Prize in Literature awarding.
In its exploration of the colonial history of Africa, Afterlives transported the readers to the infancy of the 20th century, to East Africa. It introduced an eclectic cast of characters but two characters already loom large in the story. The first one was Ilyas who returned to his hometown after years of being away. The locals thought he was “kidnapped by the ruga ruga or the wamanga.” Oh yes, the book was brimming with local terms which are kind of throwing me off. I had to look up what these terms are. The latter pertains to Omani Arabs who immigrated to East Africa while the former are irregular troops scattered all over the region and are often mercenaries. This sudden interjection of native terms is getting in the way of my appreciation of the story and kept me pausing every now and then. But I must persevere.
The second main character was Hamza who was one of many young Africans taken by Germans and trained to be fighters; I don’t think soldiers is an apt term for how they were used by the colonizers. Ilyas also returned after participating in the war waged on the continent. Interestingly, these wars pitted locals against locals, locals against colonizers, and colonizers against each other. In the story, we read about the struggle between the Germans and the Brits as they wrestle for control over East Africa. Speaking of warfare, the Maji Maji Rebellion was repeatedly referenced in the story. A quick search yielded that it was the armed struggle between Islamic and animist Africans and the Germans in modern-day Tanzania, the author’s birthplace.
Historical contexts keep me invested in the story although there are also personal touchstones as the African sentiment was slowly being unpacked by Gurnah. With Gurnah’s writing, the tumultuous years during the first half of the 20th century when several African nations started fighting for their independence were slowly coming to life. But it wasn’t only the historical contexts that were keeping me riveted in the story. The book was also brimming with cultural touchstones. Novels from different parts of the world provide great means to expand one’s understanding of the world. And it is the broadening of this worldview that I am looking forward to in the story. Despite the complexity of Gurnah’s language, I am looking forward to how the story will take shape.
I am hoping to finish the book over the weekend. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. For now, happy weekend! And as always, happy reading and take care!