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AbdulRazak Gurnah

Birth:1948

Death:

ABDULRAZAK GURNAH (1948 - ) Winner of the Noble Prize for Literature. While Abdulrazak was making a cup of tea in the kitchen of his Canterbury home came a telephone call to his utter surprise telling him he had won the 2021 Noble Prize for Literature. He had not the slighted inkling that he was even being considered for the prestigious award.

The Swedish Academy praised him “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugees in the gulf between cultures and continents.”

In his ten novels and numerous short stories Abdulrazak, a retired professor, tackled themes of exile, racism, and immigration. In his most recent novel Afterlives (2020) the story tells the interwoven stories of four characters in East Africa when it was occupied by Germany before that country’s defeat in the First World War.

In his first novel, Memory of Departure (1988), set on the East African coast, it follows a young man struggling under a totalitarian regime, before being sent to live with a wealthy uncle in Kenya. Paradise (1994) opens in East Africa before World War 1 and follows 12-year-old boy who has been handed over to a wealthy merchant as an indentured servant. The novel recounts his excursions across the continent along with the natural life, other tribes and threats they encounter. In Admiring Silence (1996) an unnamed narrator flees Zanzibar in the 1960s for England where he soon falls in love with an Englishwoman and begins family. As he battles the racism he encounters there, he also wrestles with self-loathing for his attempts to blend in. Escaping lawlessness and corruption, By the Sea (2001) narrates the story of a 65-year-old merchant from Zanzibar who applies for asylum in England. The book details casual cruelty from British immigration officials and a dystopian bureaucracy that underpins the resettlement efforts, as he is eventually shuttled to a quite seaside town. By chance he meets the son of the man who caused great suffering for him and his family, and their eventual friendship is a reconciliation of their family histories. In Desertion (2005) the novel narrates two ill-fated love stories. In 1899, a British adventurer and “anti-Empire wallah” is taken in by an East African shopkeeper and falls in love with his sister Rehana causing a scandal. Decades later, a Zanzibari academic recounts his own family’s woes: how his brother fell in love with Rehana’s granddaughter. Gravel Heart (2017) is a story of Salim who grew up in Zanzibar not sure why his family broke apart or why. Later, after a steller academic performance gives him the opportunity to study in England. But under the weight of his family expectations he collapses.

Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in Zanzibar then a Sultanate and was brought up in a well-to-do family. He fled the island, later incorporated into Tanzania, after the revolution in 1964, which targeted people of Arab descent. He came to Britain and after studying in Canterbury later earned a PhD at the University of Kent. He became a member of the faculty, teaching English and post-colonial literature.


Compiled by:M. Nauman Khan

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