German colonial history remains little explored in fiction. Since the 1880s, Kaiser Wilhelm II, grandson of Queen Victoria, had the ambition to secure what was then termed Germany’s ‘Platz and der Sonne’, its place in the sun, Von Bülow’s infamous phrase in praise of Germany’s expansionist colonial policies. In popular historical discourse of German colonialism, attention tends to focus more on Deutsch-Südwestafrika…
By AiW Guest: Judyannet Muchiri.
Judyannet Muchiri: This is a heavy story and yet there are moments of stillness, joy, love, and tenderness, if you will. I wonder how it is for you as a writer to capture this human existence in its totality as you have done in Afterlives.
Abdulrazak Gurnah: My interest was not to write about the war or the ugliness of colonialism. Instead I want to make sure the context in which war and colonialism happened is understood. And that the people in that context were people with entire existences. I want to show how people who are wounded by the war and by life itself cope in these circumstances. Using the unexpected kindnesses in the story, I wanted to show that there is potential for kindness in people and sometimes circumstances can draw such kindness from us.
In the wake of a bad dream, one of the protagonists in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Afterlives, Hamza, laments: “such noise and screams and blood”. These words keep resounding when one thinks about the disruption caused by colonialism in Africa – how our grandparents and ancestors must have felt with the arrival of those who set themselves up as colonial masters.