The Swedish Academy awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah in recognition of “his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”
The novelist, who grew up in Tanzanian archipelago Zanzibar and fled to England as a refugee in the 1960s, has written several short stories and published ten novels.
Gurnah, who is a former Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent, is the first black African to be awarded the prestigious award since Wole Soyinka in 1986.
The Chairman of the Nobel Committee, Anders Olsson, wrote in a statement:
“Gurnah’s dedication to truth and his aversion to simplification are striking. 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 statement 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.”
His fourth novel ‘Paradise’ (1994), which was his breakthrough in the world of English literature, is a coming of age account and a sad love story in which different worlds and belief systems collide.
The Nobel committee also remarked that in all his work, Gurnah has ‘striven to avoid the ubiquitous nostalgia for a more pristine pre-colonial Africa.’
The Nobel prize for literature, which has been awarded 118 times, has been criticised for being ‘male-oriented’ and ‘Eurocentric’. Out of the 118 times, only 16 Nobel literature laureates have been women.