Bingo: Rep (with a bingo for row 3)
CW: violence, drug use.
Snoopz, our protagonist, is in a car that’s slowly trailing a woman down a fancy street in London. As she reaches the front door of her house, Snoopz and his friend Gotti get out, sneak up behind her, and strike: Snoopz puts her in a chokehold while Gotti struggles to snap off the woman’s diamond-encrusted Cartier. Snoopz spots a giant diamond ring on her finger, but try as he might, he can’t remove it, even after snapping back her finger. They end up taking her handbag instead, after her husband opens the door to pull her inside, leaving them with no option but to get away quickly. After a rendez-vous with their accomplices, Gotti asks Snoopz if he wants to hang out, but Snoopz declines, saying he has to “make sure I’m up nice and early tomorrow, full of energy for my 9am uni lecture.”
The first chapter of Who They Was, a semi-autobiographical novel written by the son of Polish immigrants living in London, drops you right in the middle of the action. While the pace slows down occasionally, the entire rest of the book is high energy, constantly on edge. Krauze tells the story of how he got involved in crime (drug trade, robbery), and the temptation of sinking even further into that life. He juxtaposes it with his frustration and disconnection with his parents, as well as his awareness of how smart he is, and wanting to finish his university degree.
Longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020, this is unlike anything I’ve read before. Krauze puts a critical lens to what goes on in some of London’s poorest neighborhoods, but also has a strong connection to the people who live there, and knows how tempting it is to join in.
The only thing I found grating at times was when Krauze gets a little too clever and self-conscious, like when he talks about a classroom discussion about Nietzsche or Hamlet, and tries to mirror it in a story about his life as a criminal. Luckily there was only a handful of moments like that, and the rest of the book is a very interesting look at a life of crime in London.