Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature

Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and of the plight of the refugee in the chasm 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 10 novels as well as a number of short stories. Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel committee, said that Gurnah’s novels -om his first Souvenir du Départ, on a failed uprising, to his most recent, Afterlives – “recoil from stereotypical descriptions and open our eyes to an Africa of the world. ‘Is culturally diverse and unknown. to many in other parts of the world ”.

No African black 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 shortlisted in 2001. Olsson said that Paradise “clearly refers to Joseph Conrad in his interpretation of the voyage of the young innocent hero Yusuf towards the heart of darkness ”.

« [Gurnah] has constantly and with great compassion penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa and its effects on the lives of uprooted and migrant people, ”Olsson told reporters in Stockholm.

Gurnah, who was in the kitchen when told of his victory, said he believed it was a liquidation.

“I thought it was a joke,” he said. “These things are usually thrown weeks in advance, or sometimes months in advance, on who the runners are, so it wasn’t something on my mind at all. I was just thinking, I wonder who’s gonna get it?

“I am honored to receive this award and to join the writers who came before me on this list. It’s overwhelming and I’m so proud.

Its longtime editor, Alexandra Pringle at Bloomsbury, said Gurnah’s victory was “the most deserved” for a writer yet to be duly recognized.

Photography: Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP / Getty Images

“He’s one of the greatest African writers alive, and no one has ever noticed him and it just killed me. I did a podcast last week and said he was one of the people that just skipped. And now it has happened, ”she said.

Pringle said Gurnah had always written about displacement, “but in the most beautiful and haunting way of what uproots people and propels them across continents.”

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

Pringle said Gurnah is as important a writer as Chinua Achebe. “Her writing is particularly beautiful and serious, but also humorous, kind and sensitive. He’s an amazing writer who writes about really important things.

Afterlives, released last year, tells the story of Ilyas, who was stolen from his parents by German colonial troops as a child and returns to his village after years of fighting in a war on his own. people. It has been described in the Guardian as “a gripping novel, which brings together nearly all who were destined to be forgotten and refuses their erasure”.

“In Gurnah’s literary universe, everything moves: memories, names, identities. This is probably because his project cannot be completed definitively, ”said Olsson. “An endless exploration driven by intellectual passion is present in all of his books, and just as important now in Afterlives, as when he began writing as a 21-year-old refugee.

Maya Jaggi, critic and 2021 Costa Prize judge said: “Gurnah, whom I first interviewed for The Guardian in 1994, is a powerful and nuanced writer whose elliptical lyricism thwarts the silences and lies of the Imperial history imposed as a child in East Africa. . His subtle work is as robust on the brutal flaws of the mercantile culture he left behind as the atrocities of British and German colonialism, especially during World War I, and the “random acts of terror” he experienced as than Black in Britain – converting them to a comedic triumph in his 1988 novel Pilgrims Way.

Gurnah was born in 1948 and raised in Zanzibar. When Zanzibar experienced a revolution in 1964, citizens of Arab descent were persecuted and Gurnah was forced to flee the country at the age of 18. He began writing as a 21-year-old refugee in England, choosing to write in English, although Swahili was his mother tongue. His first novel, Memory of Departure, was published in 1987. He was until recently professor of English and postcolonial literature at the University of Kent, until his retirement.

Worth 10 million Swedish kronor (£ 840,000), the Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to a writer considered to be, in the words of Alfred Nobel’s will, “the person who will have produced in the field of literature the most remarkable work in an ideal direction. ”. The winners range from Bob Dylan, cited for “having created new poetic expressions within the great tradition of American song”, to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, discovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world. ”According to Ellen Mattson, who sits on the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Committee:“ Literary merit. It’s the only thing that matters.

The Nobel Laureate is chosen by 18 members of the Swedish Academy – an august and mysterious organization that has struggled to become more transparent after being hit by a sexual abuse and financial misconduct scandal in 2017. Last year’s prize was awarded to the American poet. Louise Glück – an uncontroversial choice after the outcry over Austrian writer Peter Handke’s victory in 2019. Handke had denied the Srebrenica genocide and attended the funeral of war criminal Slobodan Milošević.

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


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