Fourth Estate has triumphed in an auction for a “breath-taking” debut work of autofiction about one man’s involvement in London gang-life.
Helen Garnons-Williams, publishing director at 4th Estate has acquired British Commonwealth rights excluding Canada at auction, in Who They Was, by Gabriel Krauze, from Jo Unwin at JULA. The HarperCollins imprint will publish in hardback in early autumn 2020.
The book is described as “an urgent and electrifying work of autofiction: the first-hand account of a young man who has lived a life of violent crime, and who expresses it boldly, accurately, and at times even beautifully”.
Krauze, who has published short stories in Vice, grew up in London in a Polish family "and was drawn to a life of crime and gangs from an early age", Fourth Estate said. “Now in his 30s he has left that world behind and is recapturing his life through writing.”
The author "came of age among the high rises and back streets of South Kilburn in north-west London,” the synopsis reads. “He was personally heavily involved in gangs, drugs, guns, stabbing and robbery - all while completing an English degree at Queen Mary’s University. Who They Was comes directly from that experience and as such it is confronting, exhilarating, morally complex, and utterly unique.”
Krauze's first novel is billed as “a story of extreme and toxic masculinity - reminiscent of the film La Haine and the TV series, Gomorrah - about the thrill of violence and the trauma it leaves behind.” The book also explores the themes of brotherhood, belonging, choices and their consequences.
Garnons-Williams said: “All of us at Fourth Estate were knocked sideways by this breath-taking book and we could talk of nothing else for days. It is a thrilling reminder of the power of storytelling to open our eyes to other people’s experiences, and our ears to voices that are too rarely heard. Told with the linguistic verve of [James] Kelman and the unblinking humanity of Ferrante, Who They Was is a raw, lyrical, blazing despatch from the frontlines – the faultlines – of contemporary England.”
Krauze said: “Despite the crazy and self-destructive life I led, as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a writer. I feel that at 4th Estate I have finally arrived at the place in my life where I should be.”