October 7, 2021 7:12:33 pm
Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2021. The Swedish Academy bestowed on him the honour “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”
The 72-year-old author was born in Zanzibar and has written 10 novels and several short stories. All his works are weaved with a common thread — the experience of refugees, mirroring his own. However, his writing reflects his clear-eyed perspective of the past, one that is not dipped in nostalgia.
His first novel was Memory of Departure (1987), but his breakthrough work was Paradise (1994). Born out of his travel in East Africa around the 1990, the novel was also deeply influenced by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) especially in the portrayal of the protagonist.
The 2021 #NobelPrize in Literature is awarded to the novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” pic.twitter.com/zw2LBQSJ4j
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 7, 2021
Being forced to leave Zanzibar after the formation of Republic of Tanzania when he was young, the theme of exile and the feeling of detachment suffered by refugees haunt his work. “Gurnah’s writing is from his time in exile but pertains to his relationship with the place he had left, which means that memory is of vital importance for the genesis of his work,” the Nobel Prize website wrote about him.
His characters are almost always straddling between various identities, countries and continents. It is the multi-facedness of loss and longing that Gurnah keeps excavating and exploring in his work and deftly refrains from fanning stereotypes.
The Swedish Academy echoes this. “His novels recoil from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally diversified East Africa unfamiliar to many in other parts of the world. In Gurnah’s literary universe, everything is shifting – memories, names, identities. An unending exploration driven by intellectual passion is present in all his books, and equally prominent now in ‘Afterlives’ (2020), as when he began writing as a 21-year-old refugee,” they further wrote.
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