Abdulrazak Gurnah: Narrating for the Uprooted |  In deep

The writer Abdulrazak Gurnah received the Nobel Prize for Literature this year after a career that includes, so far, several stories and ten novels in which he narrates his experiences about refugees and the exile that he himself lived.


Pardon and penalty

After more than 30 years, Gurnah became the first African author of color to win the award. He was born in Zanzibar, the Tanzanian archipelago, but has lived in England since 1960.

He was competing for this award along with other candidates such as Annie Ernaux, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and even Haruki Murakami, who was one of the favorites to win the award.

Narrating for the uprooted

Gurnah expressed at the time that he never imagined that he would become a writer. “It never occurred to me. It wasn’t something you could say when you were little, “he said in an interview.

Various events led him to writing as a form of expression and protest against his own experiences. For example, in 1964, when he was 18 years old, he witnessed a violent uprising that forced him to flee his home.

Nostalgia, poverty and misery accompanied him in his new reality. Since then he began to write in a journal. These little writings were spreading to be stories about other people.

Thus, he forged a habit that allowed him to express his own history of uprooting, until finally his first novel was born, followed by nine more works in which he gives an account of displacement, war and colonialism.

According to the writer, his greatest motivation was “the experience of writing was the idea of ​​losing your place in the world.”

This experience, narrated in his works, has granted him the most prestigious literary recognition in the world, highlighting his “inflexible and compassionate discernment of the effects of colonialism and the destiny of the refugee in the abyss between culture and continents.”

Another recognition for an African writer

Gurnah, at 72 years old, won the Nobel Prize in Literature after more than a decade since it was received by an African author.

It was previously obtained by the Nigerian Wole Soyinka in 1986; the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz in 1988; South Africans Nadine Gordimer in 1991 and John Maxwell Coetzee in 2003; as well as British-Zimbabwean Doris Lessing in 2007.

This award has also received some criticism about the diversity of its winners, such as that made by journalist Greta Thurfjell, who at the time claimed that of the 117 winners, at least 95 were Americans or Europeans. Furthermore, only 16 were women.

Highlight identity through your works

In the ten novels written by Gurnah, his frequent interest in the themes of identity, exile and belonging can be seen.

In their jobs Memory of Departure, Pilgrims Way and Learned recounts the experience of immigrants in the UK.

Similarly, Paradise tells the story of a child in an East African country who has had to live the price of colonialism.

For its part, in Precarious silence tells the life of a young man who leaves Zanzibar for England, where he marries and becomes a teacher.

Photo: France 24

His most recent work is Afterlives, in which he analyzes the effects of German colonialism in Tanzania and its consequences throughout the generations, detailing how it divided communities.

The chairman of the committee that awards the award, Anders Olsson, assured that Gurnah “is recognized as one of the most outstanding postcolonial writers in the world (…) he has systematically and compassionately explored the effects of colonialism in East Africa and its effects on the lives of uprooted people and emigrants ”.

He stated that the characters in Gurnah’s novels are located “between the life they left behind and the life to come, they confront racism and prejudice, but they also convince themselves to silence the truth or reinvent their biographies to avoid conflicts with reality”.

Although Gurnah’s native language is Swahili, the author adopted English for literary purposes. Inspired by Persian and Arabic poetry, especially Arabian Nights.

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