Thursday, January 20

Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature | Books

The Nobel Prize for literature has been awarded to novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, for his “uncompromising and compassionate insight into the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gap between cultures and continents.”

Gurnah grew up on one of the Zanzibar islands before fleeing persecution and arriving in England as a student in the 1960s. He has published ten novels and several short stories. Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel committee, said that Gurnah’s novels, from his debut Memory of Departure, about a failed uprising, to his most recent, Afterlives, “step back from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally eastern Africa. diversified and unknown. to many in other parts of the world ”.

Abdulrazak Gurnah receives the Nobel Prize for literature - video
Abdulrazak Gurnah receives the Nobel Prize for literature – video

No black African writer has won the award since Wole Soyinka in 1986. Gurnah is the first black writer to win since Toni Morrison in 1993.

Gurnah’s fourth novel, Paradise, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, and her sixth, By the Sea, was listed in 2001. Olsson said Paradise “has an obvious reference to Joseph Conrad in his portrayal of the young hero’s journey. innocent Yusuf to the heart of darkness ”.

“[Gurnah] it has steadily and compassionately penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa and its effects on the lives of uprooted people and migrants, “Olsson told reporters in Stockholm.

Gurnah, who was in the kitchen when she was informed of her victory, said she believed it was a rope.

“I thought it was a joke,” he said. “These things tend to float weeks before, or sometimes months before, over who the runners are, so it wasn’t something that was on my mind at all. I was thinking, I wonder who will get it.

“It is an honor for me to receive this award and to join the writers who have preceded me on this list. It’s overwhelming and I’m very proud. “

His longtime editor, Alexandra Pringle in Bloomsbury, said Gurnah’s victory was “more deserved” for a writer who had not previously received due recognition.

Abdulrazak Gurnah Books
Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP / Getty Images

“He is one of the best African writers alive, and nobody has noticed him and that has killed me. I did a podcast last week and in it I said that he was one of the people who had just been ignored. And now this has happened, ”he said.

Pringle said that Gurnah had always written about displacement, “but in the most beautiful and fascinating ways of uprooting people and pushing them across continents.”

“It is not always the search for asylum, there can be many reasons, it could be commerce, it could be commerce, it could be education, it could be love,” he said. “The first of his novels that I took in Bloomsbury is called By the Sea, and there is this haunting image of a man at Heathrow Airport with a carved incense box, and that’s all he has. He comes in and says a word, and that is ‘asylum’ ”.

Pringle said that Gurnah is as important a writer as Chinua Achebe. “His writing is particularly beautiful and serious and also humorous, kind and sensitive. He is an extraordinary writer who writes about really important things. “

Afterlives, published last year, tells the story of Ilyas, who was robbed from his parents by German colonial troops as a child and returns to his village after years of fighting a war against his own people. It was described in The Guardian as “a compelling novel, bringing together all those who were destined to be forgotten and refusing to erase them.”

“In Gurnah’s literary universe, everything is changing: memories, names, identities. This is probably because your project cannot be completed in any definitive sense, ”said Olsson. “Endless exploration fueled by intellectual passion is present in all his books, and equally prominent now, in Afterlives, as when he began writing when he was 21 years old.”

Maya Jaggi, critic and judge for the Costa 2021 Prize said: “Gurnah, whom I first interviewed for The Guardian in 1994, is a powerful and nuanced writer whose elliptical lyricism counteracts the silences and lies of imperial history imposed as a child. in East Africa. . His subtle work is as solid about the brutal flaws of the mercantile culture that he left behind as the atrocities of British and German colonialism, especially during WWI, and the ‘random acts of terror’ that he experienced as a Negro in Britain. making them a comic triumph in his 1988 novel Pilgrims Way. “

Gurnah was born in 1948 and grew up in Zanzibar. When Zanzibar went through a revolution in 1964, citizens of Arab origin were persecuted and Gurnah was forced to flee the country when he was 18 years old. He began writing as a 21-year-old refugee in England, choosing to write in English – although Swahili is his first language. His first novel, Memory of Departure, was published in 1987. Until recently he was a professor of English and postcolonial literature at the University of Kent, until his retirement.

With a value of 10 million Swedish crowns (840,000 pounds sterling), the Nobel Prize for Literature is for the writer who is considered, in the words of Alfred Nobel’s will, “the person who will have produced in the field of literature the work more outstanding in an ideal direction ”. The winners range from Bob Dylan, cited for “creating new poetic expressions within the great tradition of American song,” to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional power, has discovered the abyss under our illusory sense of connection with the world”. .According to Ellen Mattson, member of the Swedish Academy and of the Nobel committee: “Literary merit. That’s the only thing that counts. “

The Nobel Prize winner is chosen by the 18 members of the Swedish Academy, an august and mysterious organization that has struggled to be more transparent after it was hit by a sexual abuse and financial misconduct scandal in 2017. The award of the year Last was for American poet Louise Glück: an indisputable choice after the uproar caused by the victory of Austrian writer Peter Handke in 2019. Handke had denied the Srebrenica genocide and attended the funeral of the war criminal Slobodan Milošević.

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded 118 times. Only 16 of the awards have been for women, seven of them in the 21st century. In 2019, the Swedish academy promised that the award would become less “masculine” and “Eurocentric,” but proceeded to award its next two awards to two Europeans, Handke and Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.

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