Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, renowned for his work on refugee trauma and disruptions, won the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday.
Gurnah, became the fifth African to win the Nobel Literature Prize. Born in 1948, he grew up on the island of Zanzibar but arrived in England as a refugee in 1968 following the revolution which led to oppression and the persecution of citizens of Arab origin.
The Swedish Academy honouring Gurnah said, “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”.
“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,” the Nobel Foundation added.
Gurnah has published 10 novels and a number of short stories and is best known for his 1994 breakthrough novel Paradise, set in colonial East Africa during World War I, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.
He began writing as a 21-year-old in England. Although Swahili was his first language, English became his literary tool.
The Nobel Foundation further said, “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”.
Gurnah has until his recent retirement been Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent in Canterbury, focusing principally on writers such as Wole Soyinka, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Salman Rushdie.