7th October, 2021
Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah has been named the winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize In Literature.
Gurnah who is based in the UK was voted the winner “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”
Gurnah is the fourth African to win the coveted prize after Wole Soyinka of Nigeria who won in 1986, Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz in 1988 and South African Nadine Gordimer who won in 1991.
The new Nobel laureate was born in 1948 and grew up on the island of Zanzibar.
He arrived in England as a refugee at the end of the 1960’s.
Until his recent retirement he was Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent, Canterbury.
Abdulrazak Gurnah has published ten novels and a number of short stories. The theme of the refugee’s disruption runs throughout his work.
He began writing as a 21-year-old in English exile, and although Swahili was his first language, English became his literary tool.
Here is what the Swedish Academy and Nobel Prize Committee said about him:
His fourth novel ‘Paradise’ (1994), his breakthrough as a writer, evolved from a research trip to East Africa around 1990.
It is a coming of age account and a sad love story in which different worlds and belief systems collide.
In Abdulrazak Gurnah’s treatment of the refugee experience, focus is on identity and self-image. Characters find themselves in a hiatus between cultures and continents, between a life that was and a life emerging; it is an insecure state that can never be resolved.
Abdulrazak Gurnah consciously breaks with convention, upending the colonial perspective to highlight that of the indigenous populations. Thus, his novel ‘Desertion’ (2005) about a love affair becomes a blunt contradiction to what he has called “the imperial romance”.
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.
Abdulrazak Gurnah’s dedication to truth and his aversion to simplification are striking.
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.