RaveNew York Times Book Review... superb ... In this story as in history, the German empire is a living, breathing organism with a desire to grow and reproduce and, if threatened, fight for its survival at all costs. Gurnah depicts the white man’s racism plainly ... Gurnah reveals the ensuing sequence of events slowly and expertly, his tone abounding in empathy and devoid of judgment, even as the ramifications of Ilyas’s choice grow in magnitude over the years and decades ... may be an exploration of imperialism and war and the minor, untold stories that get lost in the major, oft-repeated ones, but it is equally a love story. After finding themselves taken in by Khalifa and his wife, Asha, Afiya and Hamza — two young people who have seen the extent of human wickedness, Afiya at the hands of her fellow Africans and Hamza at the hands of Europeans — choose to surrender themselves to each other so that they might build something new and beautiful out of the rubble ... Gurnah beautifully renders their moments of delight despite the brutal reality around them ... Born in the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar, Gurnah moved to England during the Zanzibar revolution at 18, and lives there today. It is evident from this novel that he still carries his homeland in his heart; Afterlives is a celebration of a place and time when people held onto their own ways, and basked in ordinary joys even as outside forces conspired to take them away. Even in times of war, he shows, single women still hope for ideal husbands, businessmen seek profit, spouses quarrel, men gather for evening gossip, loved ones frequent one another’s houses to care for the sick, toast marriages, observe holidays ... [Gurnah] is a novelist nonpareil, a master of the art form who understands human failings in conflicts both political and intimate — and how these shortcomings create afflictions from which nations and individuals continue to suffer, needlessly, generation after generation.
Robert Samuels, Toluse Olorunnipa
MixedThe AtlanticSamuels and Olorunnipa deserve every praise for presenting Floyd as the complex character that he was—what human isn’t? Both writers are Black men and could easily have diluted portions of the book that show Floyd’s many shortcomings and poor decision making, but they resisted the urge. The result is an expertly researched and excellent biography, a necessary and enlightening read for all, especially those who, like my fellow African immigrants in the ’90s, have ever looked upon young Black men in the inner city with disdain ... it is confounding that the authors shy away from more pointedly calling out the hypocrisy of governments and corporations and all manners of institutions that immediately took the knee, vigorously condemned Chauvin, and pledged their allegiance to anti-racism, not because it was just but because it suited them. The authors know this, and yet a good portion of this book is spent on the Chauvin trial and the theatrics of the aftermath of the killing, as if all the superficial changes in the world will prevent future tragedies of this nature ... Perhaps I am transferring my disappointment with America onto Samuels and Olorunnipa. Perhaps I am unfairly asking them to do more than bear witness. I imagine they would say, in their defense, that putting America on trial for the death of George Floyd is an impossibility, and beyond the scope of this book. Fair enough, but deep down I know, many of us know, that even with Chauvin in prison, justice has not been fully served. Those entities that created the conditions for Floyd’s death carry on. They thrive. Their next victim awaits ... This, perhaps, was why at the end of reading this book, I felt nothing but a deep exasperation.
Kawai Strong Washburn
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewWashburn’s depiction of [the sharks\'] rescue is as vivid as it is splendid ... as in García Márquez’s work, the wonders and woes of being part of a community take center stage ... This may be his debut, but [Washburn] proves himself an old hand at dissecting the ways in which places—our connections to them, our disconnections from them—break us and remake us ... With prose that can be breathy and sweaty in one paragraph before gliding softly and tenderly into the next, this passionate writer cries out for us to see Hawaii in its totality: as a place of proud ancestors and gods and spirits, but also of crumbling families and hopelessness and poverty. Of mystery and beauty at every corner.
PositiveThe Washington PostThere is a lot of loss in this book, most notably the loss of one’s life by one’s own hands. How does one come to terms with a strong urge to commit suicide? How does one make sense of this urge when outwardly one is 'an example of the American dream come true?' How does a writer partake in a genuine conversation with a world that loves the sight and sound of success stories — the splendor without the abyss beneath? ... Li’s ruminations on her anguish are so poignant that it’s nearly impossible not to close your eyes and give her a long mind-hug when she says 'again and again my mind breaks at the same spot as though it is a fracture that never fully heals' ... Interspersing her thoughts with stories from her Beijing childhood and her time in the army, Li doesn’t allow us too far behind the scenes of her private life, and I salute that ironclad hold on writerly privacy. Still, from what she tells us about her mother — the 'family despot'— I was left disturbed and wishing she would tell us more explicitly about the link, if there is any, between her mother’s invectives and Li’s eventual melancholia ... Li has stared in the face of much that is beautiful and ugly and treacherous and illuminating — and from her experience she has produced a nourishing exploration of the will to live willfully.