Where To Start Reading Abdulrazak Gurnah, Nobel Prize in Literature 2021?

The inspiration for the work of the Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah, Nobel Prize in Literature 2021, comes from his experience as a migrant and the culture shock that this implies.

Abdulrazak Gurnah

The Tanzanian writer has used his experience on everything that happens around migration as a source of inspiration. Photo: Flickr-PalFest

LatinAmerican Post | Luis Ángel Hernández Liborio

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Leer en español: ¿Por dónde empezar a leer a Abdulrazak Gurnah, Premio Nobel de Literatura 2021?    

The Nobel Laureates have lived through difficult times, they have been singled out as not very inclusive and even misogynistic in all their areas. This is because the number of winners "favors" European and American men. The new Nobel Prize in Literature for Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah announced on Thursday, October 7, has come to break the negative dynamics of the prestigious awards. Gurnah is a migrant and African, the first since the South African novelist John Maxwell Coetzee. The Tanzanian writer has used his experience on everything that happens around migration as a source of inspiration.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, the writer and the migrant

Gurnah was born in 1948 in the Sultanate of Zanzibar, a state that disappeared in 1964. It was precisely that disappearance that marked the life of the writer, he had to flee before the events of the Zanzibar Revolution to settle in the United Kingdom. His life as a refugee, migrant and the cultural shock that he experienced has permeated his work. According to the British Council, the recurring themes of his work are displacement, identity, and how these elements have had repercussions from the point of view of colonialism and slavery, very present in Africa during the 20th century, but whose consequences continue to be consequent on the black continent.

The Tanzanian writer left his country at the age of 17, suddenly finding himself in a dilemma over his identity and how to adapt to a new reality in Europe. His characters share that reality, they must face being displaced and how it affects who they are and where they are going. And not only as a linear and personal process but as a long path that migrants, regardless of their origin, share. The clash between different cultures, languages, identities, customs and more, is what delineate each of the characters that are part of his works. Thus, Gurnah seeks to represent himself: "I knew that I would represent myself to readers who perhaps saw themselves as normative, free of culture or ethnicity, free of differences."

For the Latin American reality, with people displaced by war, insecurity, political persecution, economic crisis, and colonialism at different times, Gurnah's literature will not be as distant as that of other writers. Although it is situated in the context of Africa and Europe, many elements in common with migrants will make the work of Tanzanian interesting for Latin Americans, who will nonetheless have to read most of his work in English or hope that his newfound fame will. lead to being translated more frequently into our language.

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Three recommended works to introduce you to the work of Gurnah

Gurnah's work consists of ten novels and short stories since the age of 21 with "Memory of departure" he has remained active writing, influenced by the British literary tradition with authors such as William Shakespeare, Persian poetry, "The Thousand and One Nights" and even the Koran, according to information from the Nobel Prize. All of this adds to his criticism of European colonialism in Africa, also highlighting a nostalgia for the times prior to colonization and extensive slavery on the continent. To introduce yourself to his work and have a general perspective of it, we recommend three works, the only ones that have been translated into Spanish, so far.

  • "By The Sea" (2001): It is the story of two men who, like the author, have left the island of Zanzibar behind. One is young and the other adult, each yearns for things different from their place of origin, through intertwined stories and stories Gurnah builds a critique of colonialism and its ravages. The identity despite living in a completely different place and the roots in their place of origin, in contrast to the adaptation to a new reality, are the main threads of this novel.
  • "Paradise" (1994): This work tells the story of little Yusuf, who becomes a payment currency for his father's debt. In his new life as a "servant" Yusuf explores central Africa and the Congo basin, until he meets the outbreak of the First World War. Gurnah's reflection is on the stereotypes that are had in the West about Africa and a different perspective of historical events from the perspective of this continent that are interesting.

  • "Admiring Silence" (1998): The protagonist of this story is just a reflection of its author, a man who fled Zanzibar and who manages to build a new life in England. Although it is not quite the life he would have wanted, he manages to cope with it until he learns that there is an amnesty in his place of origin. His mother offers him a new life without knowing that he already has one in England, torn between what he wants and what he can do.

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