Tanzania’s Abdulrazak Gurnah wins 2021 Nobel Prize in literature

Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah has won the 2021 Nobel Prize in literature, the award-giving body said.

The prestigious prize was awarded yesterday by the Swedish Academy, which cited Gurnah’s “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee”.

According to Al Jazeera, Gurnah was born in Zanzibar and based in England, Gurnah is a professor at the University of Kent. His novel “Paradise” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994.

Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for literature, called him “one of the world’s most prominent post-colonial writers.”

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.14m), about R17-million

Accrding to the NY Times, Gurnah left Zanzibar at age 18 as a refugee after a violent 1964 uprising in which soldiers overthrew the country’s government. He is the first African to win the award considered the most prestigious in world literature  in almost two decades.

He is the fifth overall, after Wole Soyinka of Nigeria in 1986, Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt, who won in 1988; and the South African winners Nadine Gordimer in 1991 and John Maxwell Coetzee in 2003.

Gurnah’s 10 novels include “Memory of Departure,” “Pilgrims Way” and “Dottie,” which all deal with the immigrant experience in Britain; “Paradise,” shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, about a boy in an East African country scarred by colonialism; and “Admiring Silence,” about a young man who leaves Zanzibar for England, where he marries and becomes a teacher.

Gurnah’s first language is Swahili, but he adopted English as his literary language, with his prose often inflected with traces of Swahili, Arabic and German.

Anders Olsson, the chair of the committee that awards the prize, said at the news conference on Thursday that Gurnah “is widely recognized as one of the world’s more pre-eminent post-colonial writers.” Gurnah “has consistently and with great compassion, penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa and its effects on the lives of uprooted and migrating individuals,” he added.

The characters in his novels, Olsson said, “find themselves in the gulf between cultures and continents, between the life left behind and the life to come, confronting racism and prejudice, but also compelling themselves to silence the truth or reinventing biography to avoid conflict with reality.”

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