WOW. Wooooooow. This book was quite something and not like anything I have ever read before.
It turns out this is a work of autofiction and not a genre I have encountered before. So not quite a memoir, yet not an autobiography: a telling of one’s life in prose with characters and plots altered here and there.
It’s based on the author’s own experience of being involved in London’s gang culture from a young age, where it turns out like many, it is a lifestyle developed from a reaction when quite young in order to survive. Some people are born into it, others fall into it, whilst others try to escape, which Gabriel Krauze has attempted (I say attempted, as he mentions that even if you try to do this, there are ‘mandem’ who will still come for you and try to start something).
Following Krauze’s experience, he describes his quiet Polish family life in London where he contrasts with his violin-playing twin. Gabriel, or ‘Snoopz’ as to whom he is referred as, delves into his past from the very first page, revealing a gripping, yet gruesome account of mugging a lady on her doorstep. Three pages in and you get pure violence – I didn’t know a book could make me squirm so much!
I should mention it is also written quite phonetically, where grammar isn’t always correct on the streets, where I also learned a few terms as I read through, including ‘mandem’ (people, gang people), ‘bags’ (thousands of pounds), ‘shotting’ (shooting people), ‘zott’ (smoking weed, spliff), and being able to ‘eat’ people (in other words, mug or kill them).
His book explores who they were, or in fact ‘Who They Was’ when involved in gang culture.
Krauze cleverly and unapologetically describes gun and knife crime, confessing how he has mugged, beaten and fought people, with the occasional gun incident. It is a volatile environment, where ‘mandem’ can be getting on one minute, and then enemies seek an ‘eat’ the next. It’s no place for the vulnerable. It’s a place for the tough, unafraid, bolshy paraders – the ones who want to show off their stolen Cartiers, Rolexes, gold and diamond teeth.
And get this – he did this all whilst doing an English degree.
So why do people do it? Even if they are on a projectory which could provide them with safer and more stable options in life?
The payments can be big, yet the risk is greater, where he experienced a handful of times in the pen/behind the door (in prison), detailing the harsh conditions inside too (I can only compare it to BBC’s Time which also made me squirm in fear).
There is strong violence, but Krauze argues that some people are dealt an unfair hand in life and you do what you must to survive. At times, Krauze makes it appear he had no choice to react the way he did (maybe so). There are times when you don’t have a choice: you’re in it as soon as someone picks on you, even if you succumb, you’re then seen as a weakling and a future ‘eat’.
I cannot in anyway relate to his life and am very fortunate with where I am and what I have achieved, learned, etc. Whilst he is no longer involved in his past dealings, there is still the chance someone may want to ‘eat’ him.
Many are involved because they seek the thrill and danger of this life and don’t want to be trapped in the boring, monotonous 9-5 that can provide a lot of stability for many.
‘It’s easier to die than to live with regret.’
Crazy words from Krauze. It is a fascinating, unique read which has altered my take on citizens tangled in this kind of life. For some, it is all they have ever known.
I won’t give away the ending away as that gives the game away completely, but it had me hanging on!
This is beyond Sky’s Gangs of London – THIS is real life. Krauze has experienced it. He has lived it.
And his biggest underlying message:
Trust no one.
Rating – 5/5 ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Genre – autofiction, crime, thriller, autobiography, fiction