This book impressed me in many ways, because no matter how Africa had been presented to us by different authors, this novel has peeled all the layers to show itself as raw as it gets. We could say that the story of Yusuf, the protagonist, is heartbreaking, a story that was based on pure abandonment and solitude. Yusuf was neglected by their parents, handled to a business man to whom they had debt, without even explaining the situation. That was their payment. ‘Uncle Aziz’ was to take Yusuf to his house to make him work to repay. He was 12.
This ‘merchant’ used to travel the country to remote villages to trade ivory. It was always a perilous journey, Uncle Aziz always travelled with dozens of guards who kept criminals and animals at bay. Yusuf usually worked with Khalil, a Muslim young man who was also a servant for the merchant. One day Aziz took Yusuf to the trade trip, many thinking that because of his beauty he was an amulet for good luck, a protector.
It was ironic how everything went wrong in that trip: They got ripped off, robbed, attacked, sick with strange diseases, and killed. Maybe the luck was that at the end most of them survived, and managed to go back home, only to find the Germans walking on the streets, kidnapping the youngest to feed yet the next war.
Some reviewers defend the story as an extremely important recount of events in the Tanzania of the beginning of XX century. But I was more personally impressed with Gurnah’s way of telling his story with an absolute detachment of emotions, despite the suffering in which everyone seemed involved. This novel is only a pure description of the facts, with some little moments in which he described Yusuf’s grief for being abandoned and at the end realizing he had only been used and abused. Yusuf fell into an impossible love, and yet Gurnah only described the encounters with the loved one as if he were only telling us “what happened’, instead of ‘how he felt’, letting his readers to infer the emotions, which obviously made them much stronger. I found this way of storytelling sublime. No matter the cruelty, no matter the injustices, it seemed that this was a person that despite his sadness would never lose his happiness and hope for life.
And what about the end? The story does not seem to have one, but it looked like Yusuf, despite de black clouds on the horizon, was planning to keep focusing on how he could get the love of his life. It is a beautiful story on how despite the terrible circumstances someone is born and raised, there are beautiful feelings that can come out of that person to keep their own story alive.
A book recommended for Africa lovers!