Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel was born in 1966 in Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country. His parents were from the remote Annobón Island, off the West African coast. The Gurugu Pledge is his second novel to appear in English, and follows his 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-shortlisted debut By Night The Mountain Burns, which was based on his memories of growing up on Annobón.
Ávila Laurel has been a constant thorn in the side of his country’s long-standing dictatorial government. A nurse by profession, for many years he was one of the best known Equatorial Guinean writers not to have opted to live in exile. But, in 2011, after a week-long hunger strike in protest against Obiang’s regime, timed to coincide with the President of Spain’s visit to Equatorial Guinea, Ávila Laurel moved to Barcelona. He writes across all media, in particular as a blogger, essayist and novelist.
‘Here a delightfully candid, deceptively sober narrative voice weaves brief histories of a collective existence shaped by living on the shores of a sea that does not (or will not?) provide sufficient sustenance.’
William T Vollmann, author of Europe Central
‘As a person, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel is gentle, open and funny. As a voice, he is brave, angry, uncompromising. Here is the voice of someone who has courted and suffered persecution for the sake of a better world. How will he be remembered in the end – as revolutionary or martyr? Juan Tomás is not likely to disappear quietly.’
‘The volcanic island of Annobón, off the west African coast, provides the setting for this novel about a poor community facing a series of natural disasters. Survival, hope and despair wrestle in this surprising work by Equatorial Guinea’s leading author.’
‘Ávila Laurel is a brave opponent of the corrupt Obiang regime in his native land. His dark, troubled narrative of “our Atlantic Ocean island” is remarkable, original and poetic.’
‘The Gurugu Pledge is a dazzling relay race of storytelling. The polyphonic pleasure of these pages comes from the effortless way in which Ávila Laurel makes story generate more story.’
The Times Literary Supplement
‘Ávila Laurel does not trade in easy assertions . . . an exceptional and timely novel . . . beautifully translated by Jethro Soutar.’
‘By turns heartbreaking and humorous, The Gurugu Pledge is a book right on the frontline of the refugee crisis and a stinging and necessary rebuke to those who believe that walls and fences are a solution rather than a shameful reminder of abject failure.’
‘The Gurugu Pledge serves as a searing indictment of hatred of ‘the other’ and as an urgent call for tolerance. The final message is clear: Europe needs to build bridges, not walls.’
‘Ávila Laurel’s prose (via Soutar’s translation) has the benefit of plainspoken, documentary force and breadth of vision, his narrative eye exploring a variety of elements of life in the camp but concluding with a unified struggle for optimism and liberation. An understated, somber, and highly observant sketchbook of lives on the margins.’
Vol. 1 Brooklyn, 2017 Favourites
‘The Gurugu Pledge tells a powerful, necessary story.'