57 pages 1 hour read

Abdulrazak Gurnah


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Symbols & Motifs

Lives Rebuilt

The rebuilding of lives is a motif that runs throughout the novel. Although there is no real reference to life-after-death or any endorsement of religious beliefs in the book, the title Afterlives refers to how each of the main characters moves through a time of real trauma, following which they emerge and rebuild their lives in meaningful ways. Hamza is the epitome of this. A desperately wounded, unhoused war veteran, he shows up before Nassor’s desk and asks for a job. In time, Hamza will become Nassor’s most prized workman—honorable, confident, and insightful. Hamza’s second life takes him far away from his childhood as an enslaved youth who ran away from his enslaver and joined the military.

This motif repeats in many characters. The older Ilyas, who runs away from his dying parents, returns to his ancestral village and rescues his sister from virtual slavery. The younger Ilyas, once relieved of the unnatural voices that tormented him, advances in his abilities to the point he can travel to Germany and hunt down his namesake uncle. Asha, bereft of her parents and left to the mercy of a capricious uncle, builds a tender relationship with the unexpected husband who accepts her as she is.

Related Titles

By Abdulrazak Gurnah

Study Guide



Abdulrazak Gurnah


Abdulrazak Gurnah