Abdulrazak Gurnah: five essential books of the Nobel Prize for Literature

‘The voice of the displaced’, this is how the world knows Abdulrazak Gurnah. The writer, who recently won the award Nobel Prize in Literature, has a work that has focused on the effects of colonialism and immigration.

He was born on December 20, 1948 in Zanzibar, an island located in Tanzania, Africa. However, due to the fact that Muslim minorities were being persecuted, he had to flee to the United Kingdom in the late 1960s, where he would enter the University of Kent in Canterbury and where he would obtain his doctorate in 1982.

Abdulrazak Gurnah portrays immigration, a situation that he experienced in his own flesh and that he captures in most of his texts. Emigrating to a new geographical context, remembering the consequences that slavery left, experiencing displacement and assuming the identity processes that generate these changes, are some of the themes that the reader is going to find if they want to approach his work.

Gurnah made history by becoming the fifth African to receive this award, joining Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee from South Africa, Wole Soyinka from Nigeria, Orhan Pamuk from Turkey and Naguib Mahfuz from Egypt.

Currently, it has 10 novels, of which stand out “Paraíso” written in 1994, “By the Sea” from 2001, “Desertion” from 2005, “Gravel Heart” from 2017 and “Afterlives” from 2020. Unfortunately, only three of his books have been translated into Spanish.

So that it is not a hassle to learn more about the prose and work of the Tanzanian writer, the first African author to receive the most prestigious literary award in the world since 2003, we bring you the five most important books of Abdulrazak Gurnah, according to the District Libraries Network of Bogotá (Biblored).

  1. Paradise: the novel follows the story of Yusuf, a boy born in the fictional town of Kawa, in Tanzania, at the beginning of the 20th century. His father is a hotelier and is in debt to a rich and powerful Arab merchant named Aziz. At the beginning of the story, Yusuf is pawned in exchange for the debt and must work as the unpaid servant of the merchant. This book can be found in the Biblored catalog by clicking on the title.
  2. On the shore: In the late afternoon of November 13, Saleh Omar arrives at Gatwick airport, with only one baggage consisting of a mahogany box filled with incense. He has been many things, but now he is nothing more than a refugee sheltered in silence.
  3. Desertion: In 1899, an Englishman named Martin Pearce leaves the desert for a coastal city in East Africa and is rescued by Hassanali, a merchant whose beautiful sister Rehana decides to take care of Pearce so that he can regain his health, starring in a passionate story of forbidden love.
  4. Gravel heart: Salim has always known that his father does not love him. He lives with his parents and his beloved Uncle Amir in a house full of secrets, being a studious and dreamer boy haunted by night terrors. However, it is the 1970s and Zanzibar is changing. Tourists arrive, the island’s white sands darkening by the memory of the recent conflict and long-awaited independence from British colonialism, quickly followed by a bloody revolution.
  5. Precarious silence: He thinks, while escaping from Zanzibar, that he will probably never return and yet the dream of studying in England is more important. However, things do not happen as he imagined, as his school is a crowded and violent place. But he meets the beautiful and rebellious Emma, ​​who walks away from her middle-class white roots to offer him love and give him a child. And in return, he tells stories of his home and keeps it a secret from his family. Twenty years later, when the barriers in Zanzibar finally collapse, he discovers a story full of truth that will completely change the vision of his life.

Keep talking about migration

The British-Tanzanian author He assured after winning this award that he will not stop talking about migration and other hot topics, like the policies of the European governments that he described as “inhumane”.

“I write about these conditions because I want to write about human interactions and what people go through when they are rebuilding their lives,” he explained to reporters at a press conference in London.

“You write the best you can and hope it succeeds and works,” he said; He assured that he did not imagine that he would win the Nobel.


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But this recognition will not stop him from continuing to speak frankly about the themes that have always shaped his work and his vision of the world, said the acclaimed author of 10 novels and several short stories.. “I do not play a role, I say what I think”, stressed.

Proof of this is his latest book “Afterlives”, which tells the story of a boy stolen from his parents by German colonial troops, who upon returning to his village discovers that his parents are gone and his sister has been handed over.

Despite having written his literature in English, Gurnah retains ties to his homeland and an identity that has influenced his novels.

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Abdulrazak Gurnah: five essential books of the Nobel Prize for Literature

Hank Gilbert