Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah is on the 2021 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for his tenth novel Afterlives, alongside Maggie O’Farrell for Hamnet and Hillary Mantel for The Mirror and The Light.

The Walter Scott Prize, named in honor of pioneering Scottish historical novelist Walter Scott, celebrates quality pieces of historical writing in the English language and is open to novels published in the previous year in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth.The winner receives £25,000 and shortlisted authors each receive £1,500.

Afterlives follows the lives of two young men Ilyas and Hamza, one stolen and the other sold, and how their lives are intertwined in the age of German colonial occupation. Gurnah’s earliest novels include the Booker-shortlisted Paradise (1994), Desertion (2005), and By the Sea (2001), which was longlisted for the Booker and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Award respectively.

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Here’s a description of Afterlives by its publishers:

‘One of Africa’s greatest living writers’ Giles Foden

Restless, ambitious Ilyas was stolen from his parents by the Schutzruppe askari, the German colonial troops; after years away, he returns to his village to find his parents gone, and his sister Afiya given away.

Hamza was not stolen, but was sold; he has come of age in the schutztruppe, at the right hand of an officer whose control has ensured his protection but marked him for life.

The century is young. The Germans and the British and the French and the Belgians and whoever else have drawn their maps and signed their treaties and divided up Africa. As they seek complete dominion they are forced to extinguish revolt after revolt by the colonised. The conflict in Europe opens another arena in east Africa where a brutal war devastates the landscape. Hamza does not have words for how the war ended for him. Returning to the town of his childhood, all he wants is work, however humble, and security – and the beautiful Afiya.

As these interlinked friends and survivors come and go, live and work and fall in love, the shadow of a new war lengthens and darkens, ready to snatch them up and carry them away.

The 2021 judging panel is chaired by Katie Grant and comprises of Elizabeth Buccleuch, James Holloway, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie and Kirsty Wark.

A shortlist will be announced at the end of April and a winner announced in mid-June.

Brittle Paper congratulates Gurnah.

Go here to see the full Longlist.

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