Nobel Prize for Literature crowns Abdulrazak Gurnah and his “empathetic and uncompromising approach to the effects of colonialism”

If Africa was indeed a favorite continent, this year, for the 114e Nobel Prize for Literature, the punters were rather awaiting the consecration of the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. It was ultimately the Tanzanian novelist and scholar Abdulrazak Gurnah who won the day, Thursday October 7, the Nobel Academy saluting, through its work, an approach “Empathetic and uncompromising of the effects of colonialism as well as of the fate of refugees torn between cultures and continents”. Abdulrazak Gurnah succeeds the American poet Louise Glück, crowned in 2020. He is the fifth author from the African continent to receive the prestigious award, and the first since the South African J. M. Coetzee, in 2003.

Specializing in English letters and postcolonial studies, he is the author of ten novels

Born in 1948 on the island of Zanzibar, Abdulrazak Gurnah writes in English and lives in Great Britain where he found refuge in the late 1960s. After studying in England and then in Nigeria, he became a teacher at the University of Kent, in the city of Canterbury. He obtained a doctorate there in 1982. Specializing in English literature and postcolonial studies related to Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, he is the author of ten novels in English, the last of which, Afterlives (not translated), in 2020, as well as a large quantity of scientific articles on authors from the former British Empire, such as VS Naipaul or Salman Rushdie.

The “Paradise” odyssey

In France, Galaade editions published in 2006 Near the sea and Adieu Zanzibar in 2009. But it is mainly through Paradis (Denoël, 1995, included in the “Motifs” collection of the Plumed Serpent) that the public will have had the opportunity to discover it for the first time, a quarter of a century ago.

In this painful odyssey, Abdulrazak Gurnah looked back on the turbulent history of Tanganyika, former German East Africa, placed under the mandate of the United Nations (UN), occupied by the British and then reunited with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. He was especially interested in the fates of the most vulnerable individuals when history takes a toll on them.

The writer painted an African youth endlessly threatened by the changing interests of the powerful

With the painful journey of the young Yusuf, sold by his father in settlement of a debt, then reduced to slavery by his uncle, then launched at the risk of his life on the caravan route, the writer constantly painted an African youth threatened by the changing interests of the powerful, the vicissitudes of political regimes and the chaos of time. Entire generations struggling between unacceptable resignation and a burning desire for revolt.

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