Longlisted for the Booker Prize
An astonishing, visceral autobiographical novel about a young man straddling two cultures: the university where he is studying English Literature and the disregarded world of London gang warfare.
The unforgettable narrator of this compelling, thought-provoking debut goes by two names in his two worlds. At the university he attends, he's Gabriel, a seemingly ordinary, partying student learning about morality at a distance. But in his life outside the classroom, he's Snoopz, a hard living member of London's gangs, well-acquainted with drugs, guns, stabbings, and robbery. Navigating these sides of himself, dealing with loving parents at the same time as treacherous, endangering friends and the looming threat of prison, he is forced to come to terms with who he really is and the life he's chosen for himself.
In a distinct, lyrical urban slang all his own, author Gabriel Krauze brings to vivid life the underworld of his city and the destructive impact of toxic masculinity. Who They Was is a disturbing yet tender and perspective-altering account of the thrill of violence and the trauma it leaves behind. It is the story of inner cities everywhere, and of the lost boys who must find themselves in their tower blocks.
“It is exceptional.” —Candice Carty-Williams, author of QUEENIE
“Magnificent in its relentless intensity and searing honesty, this is a new voice arriving fully formed and raring to go.” —Booker Prize Judges, 2020
“Extraordinary. With its distinctive argot and moments of ultraviolence, Who They Wasis akin to A Clockwork Orange – except that instead of a well-heeled author's fantastical brainchild, it is a hyperrealistic tale from a writer who has lived the lifestyle it describes... Who They Was is a subtle, unflinching novel that deserves to win wide acclaim for bringing this hinterland into focus.” —The Guardian
“Who They Was is by turns visceral, funny, moving and appalling… a powerful evocation of gang life… A bit like reading Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, once the reader masters the argot, they are granted access to an elusive subculture.” —The Times (London)