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Who They Was

Narrated by: Gabriel Krauze
Length: 9 hrs and 28 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (7 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

Who They Was is an electrifying autobiographical British novel: a debut that truly breaks new ground and shines a light on lives that run on parallel but wildly different tracks. 

This life is like being in an ocean. Some people keep swimming towards the bottom. Some people touch the bottom with one foot, or even both, and then push themselves off it to get back up to the top, where you can breathe. Others get to the bottom and decide they want to stay there. I don’t want to get to the bottom because I’m already drowning.  

This is a story of a London you won’t find in any guidebooks.

This is a story about what it’s like to exist in the moment, about boys too eager to become men, growing up in the hidden war zones of big cities - and the girls trying to make it their own way.

This is a story of reputations made and lost, of violence and vengeance - and never counting the cost.

This is a story of concrete towers and blank-eyed windows, of endless nights in police stations and prison cells, of brotherhood and betrayal.

This is about the boredom, the rush, the despair, the fear and the hope.

This is about what’s left behind.

©2020 Gabriel Krauze (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"An astonishingly powerful book. Krauze is an immense new talent." (Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of The Last Act of Love)

"A timely and vital exploration into London's violence crisis by someone who experienced the sharp end of it. I cannot conjure another work which captures this culture in such depth - or with such brutal honesty - as only lived experience can tell. This is a literary rendering of the Top Boy generation tackling the expected themes of drugs, violence, poverty and social justice - and the unexpected - family, futility and fragility. Krauze's voice is stuck in my head and it is an authentic voice of the streets." (Graeme Armstrong, author of The Young Team)

"Gabriel Krauze is an unbelievably talented writer. No one manages to blend 'literary beauty' and 'an uncomfortable feeling that he's actually quite scary' like him." (Joel Golby)

What listeners say about Who They Was

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  • Hincerooney
  • 25-10-2020

Astonishing

This is one of those books that’ll change your world view irrevocably. Both brutal and delicate. Simply brilliant.

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  • David M
  • 05-09-2020

Autobiography, crime and violence

A fictional (?) autobiography of Gabriel Krauze, so he is the author, narrator and main character. Centred around Dickens House and Blake Court - blocks of flats in Malvern Road, South Kilburn, London. You wouldn't want to visit there but you can check them out via Google Street View. We hear in graphic detail of the author's life of crime and violence. Living everyday on his wits, surviving in a threatening, harsh environment. He dives right in at the start, recounting a mugging that he commits with his mate Gottie. They target a rich lady with an expensive watch and diamond ring. They deliberately break her finger trying to get the ring off her. The story of drugs and violence, and the buzz that goes with it, continues in this vein throughout the whole book. Alongside this is contrasted the author's life as a university student hoping to earn a first class degree in English. He obviously developed some talent in written English. This is a great book, different from anything I've ever read before. You really feel you are there with him in his street gangs, in prison, in university. It's an easy book to think yourself into. The books is written and narrated in street language & dialect, so it sometimes takes a while to work out what he's saying. Bunning-a-zute, Kettle, Moves, Nitties, Peas, Shank, Wagwan, Whip, Yute - - keep the Urban Dictionary open! Unexpectedly, this gets 5 stars from me. (Strange ending though - not sure if there's a bit missing from the recording?)

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-10-2020

Utterly Brilliant

This for me is one of the most important books of our generation. He makes you fully understand the mentality of how it is to be immersed in gang life. No big story lines, no shocking twists, just real every day skulduggery that is shockingly terrifying yet so cleverly done that you fully grasp the concept of these kid’s being so far removed from every day life and so desensitised to it all. It’s so grimey and violent yet beautifully poetic and intelligent. He has managed to bring an issue that is extremely relevant and elevate it into the literary world. Unbelievably powerful. Utterly brilliant. This book will never leave me!

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  • masteryehudi
  • 07-10-2020

incredibly impactful

not for everyone, but an incredibly impactful and coherent novel. highly original. unique voice. also has one of the best uses of a Bob Dylan quote I've come across

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 25-09-2020

Dark look at reality

An amazing listen. I grew up with similar stuff happening around me but never got involved. really opened up my eyes to how close to home this stuff really is.

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  • LJG
  • 21-09-2020

Mesmerising

A disturbing insight into a violent world on our doorstep. The language, daily lives, aspirations and brutality are all repugnant yet the central character has an admirable side to him that I respected. The narration is unemotional but captivating. This is a thought provoking book that makes us analyse our own ambitions.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 19-09-2020

Brilliant

An unflinching and honest book with such crisp and fresh narration. It was both exhilarating and exhausting but I couldn't stop once started. I can't recommend it more highly.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 13-09-2020

A must read

Ever wanted to understand the darker side of London, then read this book. Well written from first hand experiences. outstanding.

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  • Alice May
  • 09-09-2020

Dazzling debut

Raw, feral, and tremendously intelligent - a book that tells not only how young men get sucked into crime but how they can be irresistibly drawn to it too. Krauze didn’t have to drift into this life - his equally gifted brothers forged their futures in the creative fields of music and acting respectively - but his innate rage and refusal to accept society’s expectations have resulted in a creative outcome in itself. For perhaps the first time we have a clear window onto inner city gang life in the UK, and an articulate, authentic explanation of why government initiatives are utterly futile.

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  • Adi P
  • 08-09-2020

A dark London story.

The story was so deep and harrowing with a sadness that lingers through the pages. A captivating story that doesn't leave you long after the covers are closed.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-09-2020

Astonishing and addictive.

I don't think I'll ever forget this book. An incredible debut describing life in a part of London (predominantly South Kilburn) you rarely see or hear represented. Authentic and compelling, I couldn't get enough. GK is a rare talent