Gurnah, 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature: integration, rupture and displacement / La Semanal

Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar, 1948) was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature “for his uncompromising and compassionate insight into the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” Author of a dozen novels –’Memory of Departure ‘,’ Pilgrims Way ‘,’ Dottie ‘,’ Paradise ‘,’ Admiring Silence ‘,’ By the Sea ‘,’ Desertion ‘,’ The Last Gift ‘,’ Gravel Heart ‘and’ Afterlives’–, the Tanzanian writer investigates the concepts and transforms them into an incentive for his writing.


Refugee disturbance

Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar, 1948), winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature, is the author of ten novels. He was born and raised in the archipelago of two islands in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa. He has dedicated himself to exploring the psyche of those who have to leave. Anders Olsson, chairman of the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee, says, in a biographical essay dedicated to the writer, that Gurnah arrived in England as a refugee in the late 1960s. After the peaceful liberation from British colonial rule in December 1963, Zanzibar went through a revolution that, under President Abeid Karume, led to the oppression and persecution of citizens of Arab origin; Massacres occurred, Olsson explains. Gurnah belonged to the victimized ethnic group and after finishing school he was forced to leave his family and flee the country, the newly formed Republic of Tanzania. He was eighteen years old. Until 1984 he was able to return to Zanzibar, an event that allowed him to see his father shortly before his death. “The theme of refugee disturbance runs through his work,” writes Olsson, and he concludes:

Gurnah has struggled to avoid the ever-present nostalgia for a more pristine pre-colonial Africa. Its own origin is a culturally diversified island in the Indian Ocean, with a history of the slave trade and various forms of oppression under a number of colonial powers (Portuguese, Arab, German and British) and with commercial connections around the world. Zanzibar was a cosmopolitan society before globalization. Gurnah’s writing is from her time in exile, but it pertains to her relationship to the place she had left, which means that memory is of vital importance to the genesis of her work. His first novel, Memory of Departure, 1987, is about a failed uprising and keeps us on the African Continent. The talented young protagonist tries to disassociate himself from the social scourge of the coast, hoping to be taken under the wing of a prosperous uncle in Nairobi. Instead, he is humiliated and returned to his broken family: a violent, alcoholic father and a sister forced into prostitution. […] Gurnah’s dedication to truth and her abhorrence of simplification are striking. This can make you gloomy and uncompromising, all the while following the destiny of people with great compassion and unwavering commitment. His novels depart from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally diversified East Africa unknown to many in other parts of the world. In Gurnah’s literary universe, everything is changing: memories, names, identities. […] A never-ending exploration fueled by intellectual passion is present in all his books, even in Afterlives (2020), such as when he started writing as a twenty-one-year-old refugee.

The Tanzanian writer was a professor of English and postcolonial literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury. He is the author, among other books, of the novels Memory of Departure (1987), Pilgrims Way (1988), Dottie (1990), Paradise (1994), Admiring Silence (nineteen ninety six), By the Sea (2001), Desertion (2005), The Last Gift (2011), Gravel Heart (2017) and Afterlives (2020), published in London by Jonathan Cape, Hamish Hamilton and Bloomsbury. In Spanish they have been published Paradise (Paradise, translation by Sofía Carlota Noguera, El Aleph Editores, Barcelona, ​​1997), Precarious silence (Admiring Silence, translation by Sofía Carlota Noguera, El Aleph Editores, Barcelona, ​​1998) and On the shore (By the Sea, translation by Carmen Aguilar, Poliedro, Barcelona, ​​2003). The author of the back cover text, where the reasons for choosing the book are revealed – “letter to a stranger”, according to Roberto Calasso -, chose an eloquent phrase: “Like all my life, I live in a small town on the shores from the sea, but most of it has passed on the shores of a great green ocean, a long way from here. “

Literary studies

A reader of Salman Rushdie, Gurnah has dedicated essays to him and edited and prefaced The Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie (2007). He has published “Displacement and Transformation in The Enigma of Arrival and The Satanic Verses”(1995) and“ Themes and Structures in Midnight’s children”(2007). He has studied the work of another winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He wrote “The Fiction of Wole Soyinka”, an essay belonging to Wole Soyinka. An Appraisal (1994), edited by Adewale Maja-Pearce, and “Outrage and Political Choice in Nigeria: A Consideration of Soyinka’s Madmen and Specialists, The Man Died, and Season of Anomy”(1994). He has also examined the work of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan writer who stated: “I want to compete with Cervantes,” and wrote the foreword to A Grain of Wheat (2012).

An approach to the father figure

On Gravel HeartSalim, seven years old, suffers from his father’s indifference, his beloved uncle and his most precious books appear. The routines of the public school and the lessons of the Koran seem unshakable. But the story takes place in the 1970s and change is coming to Zanzibar. I translate to Gurnah:

My father didn’t love me. I came to that knowledge when I was quite young, even before I understood what I was being deprived of and long before I could guess why. Somehow, not understanding was a mercy. If this knowledge had come to me when I was older, I might have known how to better live with it, but it probably would have been pretending and hating. I could have feigned a lack of concern or I could have ranted furiously behind my father’s back and blamed him for the way it had all turned out and how it could have all turned out differently. In my bitterness, I might have concluded that there was nothing exceptional about having to live without the love of a father. It might even be a relief to have to do without it. Parents are not always easy, especially if they too grew up without the love of their own, because then everything they know would make them understand that parents had to do things their way, one way or another. Parents too, just like everyone else, have to deal with the relentless way in which life conducts business, and they have their own trembling selves to appease and sustain, and there must be many times when they hardly have any enough strength for that, not to mention the love to spare for the child who had somehow appeared in their midst.

Literary perspective

In his first novel, Memory of Departure, Gurnah wrote about the importance of literature. I translate: “I’m doing literature. I can take it or leave it, you know, this literature. I did well in school and I knew my teacher wanted me to do it. ” The writer delved into the influence of European literature: “He taught us English literature and was often drawn into long speeches about the destructive ignorance of European arrogance.”

A character from Pilgrims Way it is a “scourge of the imperialists and their buying lackeys, vilifying the racist literature of Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad.”

Spirals and nonexistence

On Pilgrims Way He also reflects on the loss: “No, I had not forgotten him, but I have learned to live with his death, his nonexistence. To think of it as an accident. ” On Dottie, a character “opens the door to find that Death has come for him, but first Death wants to talk about the mortal spirals and the various ruins [del] old man.”

On Afterlives, his most recent novel, in which he tells the story of a boy stolen from his parents by German colonial troops who then returns to his village to learn that his parents have left and got rid of his sister, mentions the Biashara family : Nassor Biashara’s business “had been slowly recovering from the collapse and ruin of paying creditors after his father’s death.” Gurnah narrates: “Ilyas came to the city just before the sudden death of Amur Biashara. He had with him a letter of introduction to the manager of a large German estate. “

In “Arriving at writing,” an interview with Anupama Mohan and Sreya m. Datta made in 2019 for the magazine Postcolonial TextGurnah stated: “As for hiding pain and loneliness, I think that is the condition of human existence.” He continued: “I have written multiple times about how people make the decision to leave or stay, but also about the experience of being a foreigner in Europe. So there is a focus in my literature: belonging, rupture, displacement. And in the midst of those issues are many other issues that relate to grief, loss, and recovery. “

Finally he said, “The topics my novels deal with have always been penetratingly interesting to me, so in a sense I have always researched the material I work with. There is a need to check and read in detail some aspects of specific moments, but I write about what I know and what matters to me. ” And about postcolonialism he discussed: “The value of the postcolonial idea as a discursive concept attracts me because it allows me to find communicating vessels between the literatures of different histories and cultures.” Abdulrazak Gurnah’s work appeals to literary connections from the perspective of torture, affliction, and redress.

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Gurnah, 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature: integration, rupture and displacement / La Semanal

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