Nobel winner – Tanzanian British Novelist
Abdulrazak Gurnah FRSL (born 20 December 1948) is a Tanzanian-born British novelist and academician. He was born in the Sultanate of Zanzibar but moved to the United Kingdom in the 1960s as a refugee during the Zanzibar Revolution. His novels include Paradise (1994), which was shortlisted for both the Booker and the Whitbread Prizes; By the Sea (2001), which was long-listed for the Booker and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and Desertion (2005), shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.
Gurnah was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fates of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”. He is an Emeritus Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent. Gurnah has his own viewpoints on various subjects which he revealed in a recent interview.
West’s response to migrants is almost inhuman, says Nobel winner Gurnah.
In 1967, Abdul Razak Gurnah fled an uprising in Zanzibar for the safer shores of England. But asylum came with overt racism and the tag of ‘illegal immigrant’. Those experiences have shaped his oeuvre, with novels like Paradise and Desertion. The 73-year-old is only the fourth black person to have won the Nobel Literature. He hails the role of fiction in telling stories about the migrant experience.
Gurnah came from Zanzibar to the UK as a refugee when he was only 18. His beginning to write after arriving in the UK wasn’t a conscious decision according to him. It was more like going through certain kinds of feelings and experiences such as being young and homesick in a strange country and dealing with all sorts of uncertainties –like not having money, a job, or a family around. And it was because of that sense of alienation that he began to write things down.
He says sometimes we write to clarify our own thinking or just simply to try and disentangle ideas or feelings. In the process, you also read about other people’s experiences and something that approximates to what you’re feeling, and you get infected by the desire to reconstruct it in your own way. But it took a while, and my first book came out when I was almost 40. Here are the answers to some of the questions that were asked of him in a recent interview:
On being asked if the racist response to the pandemic surprise him- first, towards China, and then Africa because of Omicron?
He replied. ‘No, it didn’t surprise me. In the first instance, you will remember it was led by the US and their mad emperor who, at the time, was at war with China in every respect, as well as at war with everybody really within striking distance, including being in denial of the existence of this contagion. So China was the obvious target of this angst. Now there is a variant discovered in Africa, so it is Africa. The same thing happened with AIDS. This is the same blame game that plays out in routine.’
By mad emperor, Gurnah means Trump and his idea of a wall to keep the migrants out. On being asked about Poland who too is planning a similar barrier, Gurnah said.
‘This particular attitude towards migrants and refugees is almost incomprehensible, particularly in Europe and the US. Only just seven to eight decades ago, Europe experienced a huge movement in population because of World War II. So Europeans are quite familiar with the condition of the refugee and many of them, of course, would have been refugees themselves or children of refugees, including, of course, the British Home Secretary (Priti Patel), and yet there is this kind of inhuman response to the difficulties that these migrants are going through – risking their lives, even dying while crossing the Mediterranean. As for the US, the so-called nation of immigrants, putting up borders to keep Central Americans and Mexicans out, that’s just as hard to understand. Should we be vilifying these migrants rather than treating them as human beings who, in most cases, are escaping violence, wars and poverty?
Upon being asked that besides writing about post-colonialism, you have also taught the subject. Do you feel that colonialism should be taught at the school level in Britain? His reply was:
‘Well, it’s being done, and there is a debate going on about whether we should focus more on it. There are people with power who are still defensive about issues like colonialism. But as I see it, it’s quite clear that the argument has been lost, and that there is no way of defending imperialism. Its consequences are around us every day, with border closures and this deep problem with poverty, and so on.
To a question: Do you feel that the British have romanticized imperial history, especially, when it comes to India? He replied.
In some respects, certainly, when they speak about India, there is this glow about the Raj and all that sort of stuff, which I think is a mutual appreciation. I don’t think there’s anything like this in most African former colonies where it was a largely brutal relationship with the British. Of course, it was much shorter than the 200 years or so they were in India, not long enough for any affection to grow though its impact cut deep.
In their statement, the Nobel note committee said your “dedication to truth and aversion to simplification” can make your work “bleak and uncompromising”. Do you agree with that description? The author replied.
Well, I’m not going to argue with a Nobel jury. There may be other ways also to describe my work but I don’t argue with people, so long as they’re saying, generally approving things.
Your writing deals a lot with the experience of being a refugee. Do you feel fiction addresses these themes better than, say, academic texts?
Yes, I do. Of course, there’s a lot of scholarship already about this but people in a popular way do not read scholarship. Fiction can provide a kind of bridge between what scholars do and what the popular imagination lacks or doesn’t know or doesn’t understand. If you’re talking historical writing you’re also providing a link between history and popular knowledge by allowing people to live in that period. I do think that fiction has a role, which is both to give pleasure but also to broaden our understanding.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE
(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 8 prestigious libraries of the US that includes Harvard College Library; Harvard University Library; Library of Congress; University of Washington, Seattle; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Yale University, New Haven; University of Chicago; University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill University Libraries. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in libraries and archives of Canada, Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai; Jaipuria Institute of Management, Noida; India. Shoolini University, Yogananda Knowledge Center, Himachal Pradesh and Azim Premzi University, Bangalore).
ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY
(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi; Available for reading in Indian National Bibliography, March 2016, in the literature section, in Central Reference Library, Ministry of Culture, India, Belvedere, Kolkata-700022)
AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES
(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be the undying characteristics of Lucknow. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014. It is included for reading in Askews and Holts Library Services, Lancashire, U.K; Herrick District Library, Holland and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, USA; Black Gold Cooperative Library Administration, Arroyo Grande, California).
REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD
(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)
TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN
(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his way through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available on Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)
RHYTHM … in poems
(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day-to-day life. The book is available on Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha) . They have also been published in newspapers such as Shillong Times and Bandra Times.
(Published in February 2020. The book is a collection of eight short stories available in Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press)
AWADH ASSAM AND DALAI LAMA … The Kalachakra
(The story of the man who received His Holiness The Dalai Lama and his retinue in 1959 as a GOI representative when he fled Tibet in 1959. The book was launched on 21st November 2022 by His Holiness The Dalai Lama at Dharmshala. The titled is archived in the library of the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) Government of Tibet, Tibet Policy Institute (TPI) and the personal library of His Holiness. The title is also archived in The Ohio Digital Library, USA).
Short stories, Book reviews and Articles published in Bhavan’s Journal: 1. Reality and Perception, 15.10.19; 2. Sending the Wrong Message, 31.5.20; 3. Eagle versus Scholars June, 15 & 20 2020; 4. Indica, 15.8.20; 5. The Story of King Chitraketu, August 31 2020; 6. Breaking Through the Chakravyuh, September 30 2020. 7. The Questioning Spouse, October 31, 2020; 8. Happy Days, November 15, 2020; 9. The Karma Cycle of Paddy and Wheat, December 15, 2020; 10. Power Vs Influence, January 31, 2021; 11. Three Refugees, March 15, 2021; 12. Rise and Fall of Ajatashatru, March 31, 2021; 13. Reformed Ruler, May 15, 2021; 14. A Lasting Name, May 31, 2021; 15. Are Animals Better Teachers?, June 16, 2021; 16. Book Review: The Gram Swaraj, 1.7.21; 17. Right Age for Achievements, 15.7.21; 18. Big Things Have Small Beginnings, 15.8.21; 19. Where is Gangaridai?, 15.9.21; 20. Confront the Donkey Within You 30.9.21; 21. Know Your Strengths 15.10.21; 22. Poverty 15.11.21; 23. Top View 30.11.21; 24. The Bansuriwala 15.1.22; 25. Sale of Alaska 15.2.22; 26. The Dimasa Kingdom 28.2.22; 27. Buried Treasure 15.4.22; 28. The Kingdom of Pragjyotisha 30.4.22; 29. Who is more useful? 15.5.22; 30. The White Swan from Lake Mansarovar 30.6.22; 31. Bhool Bhulayya 15.9.22; 32. Good Karma 30.9.22; 33. Good Name vs Bad Name 15.10.22; 34. Uttarapath—The Grand Trunk Road 1.12.22; 35. When Gods Get Angry 1.1.23; 36. Holinshed’s Chronicles 15.1.23; 37. Theogony 15.2.23; 38. Poem: Mother 14.5.23
SUNDAY SHILLONG TIMES
ARTICLES & POEMS: 1. POEM: HAPPY NEW YEAR 8.1.23; 2. POEM: SPRING 12.3.23; 3. POEM: RIGHT AND WRONG 20.3.23, 4. THE GUSH OF EMOTION—WRITING, 26.3.23; 5. THE NAG MANDIR 7.5.23; 6. POEM: MOTHER 7.5.23;
BANDRA TIMES, MUMBAI
ARTICLES & POEMS: 1. POEM SPRING, 1.4.23;
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