Abdulrazak Gurna won the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday. He is the fifth African to receive the award and the first in nearly 20 years.
In its declaration, the Nobel Committee praised “uncompromising sympathy for the influence of colonialism and the plight of refugees in the Gulf between cultures and continents”.
Gruna was born in Zanzibar and moved to England at the age of 18. Both places had a huge impact on his work. Many of his novels are about asylum, exile and a shattered identity.
Here is the Times review of Guruna’s book.
Gruna’s first novel on the coast of East Africa follows a young man who struggles against totalitarianism before he is sent to his wealthy uncle in Kenya. Our critics call it “a fascinating study of the struggle for meaning in life and the unforgettable of a traditional society collapsing under the weight of poverty and rapid change”. I call it “portrait”.
The novel, which was selected as a finalist for the Booker Prize in 1994, follows 12-year-old Yusuf, who is imprisoned in East Africa before World War I and given up under the care of a wealthy merchant. Throughout the book, Yusuf talks about his travels across the continent, along with nature, other tribes and the threats they face. Our reviewers called it “a sincere meditation on the nature of freedom and the loss of innocence for the sensitive boy as well as for the entire continent.”
An unnamed narrator flees Zanzibar for England in the 1960s, where he soon falls in love with an English woman and starts a family. While he was fighting the racism he faced there, he was also battling self-hatred for his attempts to join. The book is “extremely engaging and persistent,” wrote our critics. “Gruna skillfully depicts the pain of a man sandwiched between two cultures, each of which denies him because of his relationship to the other culture.
On the run from lawlessness and corruption, Saleomar, a 65-year-old merchant from Zanzibar, seeks asylum in Britain. The book depicts a dystopian bureaucracy that aids the ruthless brutality and relocation of British immigration authorities when Saleh is finally transferred to a quiet beach town. He happens to meet Sale and the son of a man who has caused great suffering to his family, and their last friendship is the reconciliation of their family history. As our reviewer wrote, “It is so touching when Sale Omar discovers his own paradise of friendship, a paradise of sharing experiences.”
Two unhappy love stories intertwine in this novel. In 1899 a British adventurer and “anti-imperial walla” was taken over by an East African shopkeeper and fell in love with his sister Lehana, which caused a scandal. Decades later, a Zanzibar scientist recounts his own family’s worries: How his brother fell in love with his granddaughter Lehana.
Growing up in Zanzibar, Salim did not know why his family broke up, as he says at the beginning of the novel: “My father didn’t want me.” After Salim’s outstanding academic achievements allow him to study in England, he collapses under his family’s expectations. Our reviewer said, “Even the supporting characters in this novel envision a rich story that reflects their minimal interactions. This is one of the greatest joys of this book, and it makes a world of difference. This is an enrichment option. “