Who They Was By Gabriel Krauze
Books that leave you in a daze.
Sometimes books are portals transporting you to locations far and new. Sometimes they give you razor sharp insight into places that you pass regularly and stories that you read about daily.
The love child of Top Boy & A Clockwork Orange, longlisted for @thebookerprizes in 2020 (it should have won) reading “Who they was” was like a lightning bolt to my brain and honestly I haven’t stopped thinking about it for days.
This autobiographical novel sets the tone with the first paragraph informing you that the author @gabriel.krauze was drawn to a life of gangs and crime from an early age which the novel is based on. Depicting the visceral life in London estates, you are head first plunged into robberies, gang loyalties and familial strife.
Written in lyrical slang with colloquial phrases & abbreviations, I felt as if I was in the very mind of a gang member who is as at ease with Machiavelli and Nietzsche as he is with rap and guns, due to living a double life between university and crime.
What hit me the hardest was the deconstruction of reputation that people live and die by. The need to defend and preempt violence before being named a victim, the philosophical exploration of morality, empathy and justice whilst almost nonchalantly talking about prison, stabbings & shootings was eye opening. There is no half hearted justification given for choosing this lifestyle.
I cannot do justice to the power of Krauze’s words, I had to stop at so many moments to reflect, swipe for a passage, for example when the novel describes the disparity between neighbours and streets, the bubbles of worlds that live side by side, the media and judicial systems that don’t understand the reality.
There are so many tv shows and films that attempt to do what this book does, it succeeds in its unflinching portrayal of concrete buildings, dark lamp lit streets, the chaos of drugs and Shakespearean revenge. I was constantly wondering how much of the story reflected his lived experience.
Don’t pick this up unless you have a free four hour window to read in one sitting. Chaya.
Order your copy here.