Shelfie: What the faculty is currently reading

German Studies Professor Gerd Gemunden recommends a title from his bookshelf: Abdulrazak Gurnah's Afterlives, 2020.

When I learned that Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature last year, I had never heard of him. As I quickly came to realize, as a scholar of German literature this constitutes a serious Bildungslücke [knowledge gap], as Gurnah's works explore, among other things, the legacy of German colonialism in East Africa. His latest novel, Afterlives, is set during the final years of German colonial rule, in what was then called Tanganyika, and it follows several protagonists, among them a young man, Hamza, an Askari who volunteers to go to war on the Germans' side and quickly realizes his mistake. Hamza is assigned as personal assistant to an Oberleutnant who teaches him German so that he can appreciate Schiller, but in the same breath warns him that they are fighting "backward and savage people and the only way to rule them is to strike terror into them." In Gurnah's sweeping novel, imagined lives collide with real history, describing encounters that are cruel but also bittersweet; amidst the racism and brutality of colonial rule we also experience courage, friendship and love, narrated in a prose of emotional precision full of sympathy for ordinary lives. Afterlives provides one way of answering the question of how do we remember when African voices are excluded from the archive.

- Gerd Gemunden