Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Gurugu Pledge

Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Gurugu Pledge

Title: The Gurugu Pledge
Author: Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel
Genre: Novel
Written: (Eng. 2017)
Length: 183 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Gurugu Pledge - US
The Gurugu Pledge - UK
The Gurugu Pledge - Canada
Sur le mont Gourougou - France
  • Spanish title: El juramento del Gurugú
  • Though written in Spanish, El juramento del Gurugú has apparently not yet been published in the original
  • Translated by Jethro Soutar

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : effective medley

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 2/9/2017 Kapka Kassabova
TLS . 19/9/2017 Miranda France

  From the Reviews:
  • "It 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. He intersperses vivid individual voices with the chorus-like reactions of the listening crowd (.....) There is a howl at the heart of this book that will echo in its readers’ heads for a long time." - Kapka Kassabova, The Guardian

  • "By Night was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and his follow-up is so original, so urgent that it would be surprising not to see it similarly acclaimed." - Miranda France, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Gurugu Pledge is set on Mount Gurugu, in northern Morocco, at the foot of which is a speck of Europe, the Spanish autonomous city of Melilla -- making it a draw for Africans eager to flee or emigrate to Europe, which here is just a fence (rather than the whole Mediterranean) away. The novel describes the lives of some five hundred souls living on Mount Gurugu, "black Africans all", in the most basic conditions -- in caves, with barely any protection, and limited access to food.
       Ávila Laurel points to the rise of Idi Amin and his ilk -- so also Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the (mis)ruler of the Equatorial Guinea the author has left -- as ushering in an era: "in which African civilians were obliged to leave their homelands and go and live elsewhere", and The Gurugu Pledge presents a variety of stories of those who have fled, for different reasons, their native countries, hoping for a future in Europe. Those on Mount Gurugu share some of their stories -- though they are careful about many of the specifics. Indeed, Ávila Laurel does speak of national groups, but leaves most of his individuals of indistinct nationality: even if their origins and backgrounds are, in many ways, very different, their fates are similar. It makes for an interesting tension between a larger 'African' identity (as also how the Europeans see them, unable or oblivious to differentiating between cultural and national backgrounds) and their very different individual ones -- as also throughout The Gurugu Pledge various individuals come to the fore, but it remains, until near the end, very much a group-story. So also:

The fewer clues you offered the Moroccan forestry police the better, or any police force for that matter, and so the rule of thumb was that the closer you got to the gates of Europe, the more you disposed of anything linking you to a concrete African country. On Gurugu you revealed your origins only to those you truly trusted, and yet the origin of one African is hardly an unknown quantity to another.
       The Gurugu Pledge shifts through several overlapping storylines of sorts, effectively presenting the life of those at the European portals: early on it is a round of shared stories that dominates, then the importance of football (soccer), including an important match that is then postponed because two of the women are ill, then a focus on two men who unsettle the atmosphere there, "responsible for the unrest on the mountain"; meanwhile, one of the life-stories recounted involves a schoolboy poem that determined its author's fate and is repeatedly returned to. It can seem that Ávila Laurel was unsure of how to shape the novel, moving from one focus to another rather than sticking to one formula -- simply having the characters share their different stories, for example, or building the story around the football matches, and weaving life on the mountain into these -- but the looser, shifting approach does offer a much broader and ultimately likely more effective picture.
       For a while, football dominates: Ávila Laurel notes it is one of the few things that bridge Africa and Europe, with Africans rarely seen on television except on the pitch -- so also:
It's football that teaches children that black people get to go on TV, get to be admired and applauded. Perhaps they don't all end up saying they want to be footballers, but they see a brother up there on the screen, someone from their tribe who has triumphed, and he speaks for them all.
       Inescapable here, too, is how circumstances are determinative, Ávila Laurel observing:
     People played football on Gurugu to keep warm and busy, for the hours were long and football enabled them to lose track of time, but in a different set of circumstances, they'd have read all day and into the night. And in a different reality, a team of African scholars would have come to Gurugu mountain to talk to the inhabitants and to ask them to comment on Peter's father's poem
       A final section -- titled ('The Beginning and the End') after a series of numbered chapters -- turns the story more intimately inwards, the narrative voice switching to the first person, the individual story now standing out from the larger collective one. Here too different aspects of life on Mount Gurugu -- and life leading up to it -- are explored. A journalist's visit to the site adds a rare outside figure, and glimpse of the beyond.
       The Gurugu Pledge has something of a patchwork feel, but offers appealing variety. Ávila Laurel's effective use of different approaches makes for a revealing portrait of this strangely isolated community -- physically disconnected from their pasts and futures, after all, even as these remain so significant to them while they bide their time in this hellish, uncertain limbo.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 October 2017

- Return to top of the page -


The Gurugu Pledge: Reviews: Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel:
  • Malabo, the blog of Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel
Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa
  • See Index of Spanish literature

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Author Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel was born in 1966 in Equatorial Guinea, and now lives in exile in Spain.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2017 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links