23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Abdulrazak Gurnah

Portrait Abdulrazak Gurnah
Abdulrazak Gurnah [© Mark Pringle]

Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in Zanzibar [now Tanzania] in 1948. He went to Great Britain at the age of eighteen after the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. He first studied at Christ Church College in Canterbury and then at the University of Kent, where he earned his doctorate in 1982 with a thesis on West African literature. He taught at Bayero University Kano in Nigeria from 1980 until 1983, when he became Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent.

Gurnah began writing after his relocation to Britain. Homesick, he first noted down his thoughts in a diary, then his reflections developed into fictional stories, which eventually became his first novel, »Memory of Departure« [1987]. This novel set the thematic tone of his subsequent texts – the confrontation with the traumas of colonialism, war, and expulsion. He made English his literary language, but also integrated Swahili, Arabic, and German into his texts. His stories are often set on the coast of East Africa, his protagonists often uprooted and lonely.

The plot of »Paradise« [1994] is set in East Africa at the end of the 19th century. In the coming-of-age story, twelve-year-old Yusuf, named after the prophet Yusuf in the Koran, is sent to live with an uncle in the city after his father falls into debt. He tries to make his way in the subtle mix of African Muslims, Christian missionaries, and Indian moneylenders. Returning from a risky caravan journey, he is finally confronted with a new reality – German colonial rule. Gurnah’s novel »By the Sea« [2001] is a story of love and betrayal, of loss of home, and of foreignness: two men from Zanzibar who have sought asylum in Great Britain and whose families were involved in a decades-long exhausting dispute over a house in their homeland exchange memories from their youth and flight and attempt to reconcile. Gurnah’s latest novel »Afterlives« [2020] tells the story of three young people, who fight for their integrity in the shadow of a colonial world order. Discriminately, Abdulrazak Gurnah sheds light on the role of German settlers and soldiers in the colonization of East Africa.

Gurnah was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2006, was nominated several times for the Booker Prize, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2021 »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 author lives in Canterbury.

Date: 2022