November 29, 2021 8:15 AM EST

Londoner Gabriel Krauze started jotting down notes for his Booker Prize-longlisted debut, Who They Was, while he was deep in the underbelly of London’s violent crime world. Nearly two decades later, he turned his harrowing experiences into a book. The barely fictionalized novel is a slang-heavy and propulsive first-person account of Krauze’s late teens and twenties spent witnessing and sometimes participating in violence and crime around the public housing developments in Northwest London. It’s a tough read—Krauze holds nothing back when describing so much brutality the narrator has become inured to it—but also beautiful, immersive and illuminating.

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