A reformed gangster who once stabbed a man for bumping into him has penned an adrenaline-fuelled Booker prize long-listed novel about his violent life on the streets in north-west London.
Gabriel Krauze, 34, grew up in South Kilburn and went off the rails at 13, witnessing his first stabbing a year later and walking out on his family altogether at 17.
Despite getting in with what would widely be considered ‘the wrong crowd’, Krauze speaks Italian, has a grade 8 piano and won a place at a Russell Group university studying English.
His book, Who They Was, is an autobiographical fiction which delves into Krauze’s tense double life as a gang member who stole phones at knife-point, and a keen degree student who never missed a lecture and was top of his class.
Gabriel Krauze, 34, who grew up in South Kilburn in north-west London, has penned an adrenaline-fuelled Booker prize long-listed novel about his violent life on the streets
Speaking to The Times, Krauze insisted he’s a ‘different person now’, adding: ‘I know it’s reprehensible to break someone’s arm or choke them out cos you want their watch. It’s terrible. But I will show how people get sucked into that life. Because it’s not just me. Who They Was is the story of cities everywhere.’
The book is not for the faint-hearted; from the opening chapter, Krauze details the appalling crimes he’s committed, including violently mugging a woman on her doorstep to yank a Cartier watch from her wrist.
But the brutal violence jars with Krauze’s aspirations to be a good student, with him cutting short his criminal activities to get an early night for his morning class at Queen Mary University of London.
In one scene he describes the idea of revenge being the purest form of love in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as ‘like when Romeo went to murk [beat up] Tybalt cos Tybalt murked his boy Mercutio’.
Despite getting in with what would widely be considered ‘the wrong crowd’, Krauze speaks Italian, has a grade 8 piano and won a place at a Russell Group university studying English. Pictured showing off his £3,000 dentures fashioned from white gold and diamonds, which he refers to as his ‘iced-up grillz’
In another, following a night of crime, Krauze observes during a seminar on Nietzsche: ‘Morality is just a rule of behaviour relative to the level of danger in which individuals live.
‘If you’re living in dangerous times, you can’t afford to live according to moral structures the way someone who lives in safety and peace can.’
And after a gunfight, he claims: ‘It’s mad how you can live in a city and never see any of this. Or you just see faint smudges of it every now and again around the edges of your existence.’
Krauze ‘loved’ university, telling the publication: ‘I never ever wanted to be late or skip a lecture. I’d see these students bunking off and think, “Why do you even want to be here?” but then I’d be going home and doing… bad things.’
Krauze grew up in South Kilburn (pictured) and went off the rails at 13, witnessing his first stabbing a year later and walking out on his family altogether at 17
Krauze’s parents are both Polish artists who fled the country’s communist regime in 1979, settling in Paddington, west London.
His two brothers followed wildly different paths to Krauze, with Daniel becoming a professional violinist and Kola an actor, now based in Sweden.
Before his wayward ways took hold, Krauze achieved a grade 8 in piano by the age of 12 and learned Italian during the summer holidays. He also has a working knowledge of Japanese.
But as he entered his teens, Krauze started hanging out on the streets, having sex and smoking marijuana.
Before his wayward ways took hold, Krauze achieved a grade 8 in piano by the age of 12 and learned Italian during the summer holidays. He also has a working knowledge of Japanese. Pictured with a friend and his book
He admits he was ‘shook’ the first time he witnessed someone get stabbed, but claimed your heart ‘hardens’ to it over time.
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze (£14.99) is published by 4th Estate
At 17 he moved into his friends Taz and Reuben’s flat where they lived with their father Uncle T – and admitted it broke his parents’ heart.
‘I was just different,’ he told The Times. ‘My brother Daniel knew aged six he wanted to be a violinist and I never had that disciplined internal life.
‘My instincts were opposite — like, he wasn’t bothered by material things, respect and status. I was.
‘I wanted a mobile phone and I saw by holding a knife to someone’s throat you could get it.’
While his gun-carrying life is behind him, Krauze, known as Snoopz on the streets, still shows off his £3,000 dentures fashioned from white gold and diamonds, which he refers to as his ‘iced-up grillz’.
When people read his book, his hope is they will appreciate his writing skills and look on it as literature like they would Steinbeck or Hemingway.
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze (£14.99) is published by 4th Estate.
The 2020 Booker Prize longlist
Diane Cook, The New Wilderness (US)
Tsitsi Dangarembga, This Mournable Body (Zimbabwe)
Avni Doshi, Burnt Sugar (US)
Gabriel Krauze, Who They Was (UK)
Hilary Mantel, The Mirror And The Light (UK)
Colum McCann, Apeirogon (Ireland/US)
Maaza Mengiste, The Shadow King (Ethiopia/US)
Kiley Reid, Such A Fun Age (US)
Brandon Taylor, Real Life (US)
Anne Tyler, Redhead By The Side Of The Road (US)
Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain (Scotland/US)
Sophie Ward, Love And Other Thought Experiments (UK)
C Pam Zhang, How Much Of These Hills Is Gold (US)