The Gurugu Pledge by Juan-Tomas Avila Laurel

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The Gurugu Pledge by Juan-Tomas Avila Laurel

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Phil Lewis
Reviewed by Phil Lewis
Summary: An angry and urgent portrait of migrant life on Gurugu Mountain refugee camp – the last stage before the Spanish barbed wire fences at Melilla. An absolute must read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 184 Date: August 2017
Publisher: And Other Stories
ISBN: 978-1908276940

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Juan-Tomas Avila Laurel, one of Equatorial Guinea's best-known dissident writers, is an author who deserves to be read the world over. With The Gurugu Pledge, he's captured an angry and incredibly urgent slice of the migrant experience – a snapshot of the dangers faced by those crossing the African continent in search of the barbed wire fences at Melilla- the Spanish enclave on the North Eastern tip of Morocco.

The novel takes the form of a loosely connected series of stories and vignettes from the Gurugu Mountain, the peak overlooking Melilla that has become a penultimate stop for those on long, dangerous journeys across Africa in search of the feted European ideal. Avila Laurel captures the tradition of African storytelling as stateless residents of the Mountain's caves exchange tales that range from the funny to the surreal. The first section captures the bonhomie that keeps the residents sane. It's filled with stories of laughter and incredulity, from the mysterious girl who transforms into an old woman, to the former Ugandan General attempting to keep Idi Amin's legendary excesses alive, as well as the resident who left his home out of a reluctance to shower in front of a yard of chickens.

This is an angry, indignant book that is unflinching in its gaze. The second part sees the residents going about their daily activities of gathering water and firewood, begging in the villages around the base of the mountain and, for the majority, playing football. When the day's football tournament is suspended, it slowly becomes clear that something horrific has occurred in one of the caves. The rest of the book loosely recounts events leading up to that day.

It's an amazing achievement – clear-eyed in its treatment of the residents who live in fear of the Moroccan authorities, who live in a constant state of limbo, and who, most of all, live with a burning hope that Europe will bring a better standard of life. This is, at its heart, polemical writing – come the end of the book we can taste the author's disgust, his rage at the indifference of the Europeans, the absence of any African scholars, as he calls them, addressing the issues on the camp - so much so that he has to stage a hypothetical discussion on the nature of African civic pride.

The last part of the book is amongst the most disturbing passages of literature I've read in a long time. And it will never be read by as many people as it should be. The final scenes, almost biblical in their imagery, should echo around the world. But they won't. As the author says in his post-script, the story of a continent emptying itself in order to go to another one has to be told, and it has to be told where it's happening. For this reason, amongst so many others, this is a book that needs to be read.

For further reading we recommend Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Tea at the Grand Tazi by Alexandra Singer.

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Buy The Gurugu Pledge by Juan-Tomas Avila Laurel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Gurugu Pledge by Juan-Tomas Avila Laurel at


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