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Gurnah, the fifth African to win Nobel in literature

The issue of refugee must be taken seriously into consideration and Gurnah hopes that his getting this prize will sensitize the global leaders to start discussion on the issue.
Masum Billah
Gurnah, the fifth African to win Nobel in literature

Abdulrazak Gurnah has won the prestigious ‘Nobel Prize for Literature’ this year for his "uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism". Gurnah is the first black African author to have won the award since Wole Soyinka in 1986 and is the fifth African writer to win this prize.

The Nobel Committee for Literature said in a statement."Abdulrazak Gurnah's dedication to truth and his aversion to simplification are striking," Abdulrazak Gurnah published 10 novels, including Paradise and Desertion and his literary creations highlight the theme of the refugee’s disruption. He began writing as a 21-year-old in English exile, and although Swahili was his first language, his literary language is English. Abdulrazak Gurnah consciously breaks with convention, upending the colonial perspective to highlight that of the indigenous populations.
Born in Zanzibar in 1948, Gurnah arrived in England as a refugee in the late 1960s when the global situation was different. Today more and more people are forced to leave their motherlands from terror states and the world is much more violent than it was in the 1960s. Abdulrazak Gurnah grew up on the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean. He was Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent, Canterbury just before winning this prize. Novelists such as Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison, poets such as Pablo Neruda, Joseph Brodsky and Rabindranath Tagore, and playwrights including Harold Pinter and Eugene O'Neill won this global award. In 2020 American poet Louise Gluck received this award. The Swedish Academy often takes criticism for focusing too heavily on male, mainly Eurocentric writers. In its 120-year history, only 16 women have won the Nobel Prize in literature. Until today, the last Black person awarded the prize was Toni Morrison in 1993. Refugee crisis, their displacement and depriving of education stand as global problems around the world and Gunrah’s works talk about these issues that drew the attention of the world committee.
If we look at his  great novel ‘Paradise’ which got published in 1994 deals with a boy growing up in Tanzania in the early 20th Century. Paradise is at once the story of an African boy's coming of age, a tragic love story, and a tale of the corruption of traditional African patterns by European colonialism. It presents a major African voice to American readers - a voice that prompted Peter Tinniswood to write in the London Times, reviewing Gurnah's previous novel. From the simple life of rural Africa, Yusuf is thrown into the complexities of precolonial urban East Africa - a fascinating world in which Muslim black Africans, Christian missionaries, and Indians from the subcontinent coexist in a fragile, subtle social hierarchy. The story took place in a town of Kawa in Tanzania at the turn of the Twentieth century. At the age of 12, Yusuf was sold by his father (who is in debt) to a powerful Arab merchant named Mr. Aziz. To pay for his father's debt, Yusuf had to work as an unpaid servant for Mr. Aziz. Later in the story, Yusuf joined Mr. Aziz on a caravan journey. Together with Mr. Aziz and his workers, Yusuf traveled far to Central Afrika and Congo Basin. During his travels, Yusuf met different kinds of African tribes, wild animals, and faced difficult terrains. Yusuf also learned the ways of the world as he encounters an Africa rife with tribal warfare, superstition, disease, child slavery, and marriage. In the middle of the story, Yusuf hopelessly fell in love with Amina, Mr. Aziz's very young wife. As Yusuf returned home, the World War I begins. Mr. Aziz helped the German Military in recruiting young African men as soldiers.
Abdulrazak Gurnah's second novel Pilgrims Way (1988) is a story of the hospital orderly, Daud, a disillusioned Zanzibari migrant living a melancholic and marginal life in Britain in the 1970s. Daud, the protagonist of the novel lives in a small town somewhere in Britain, sometime in the seventies. For a long time little is mentioned about his origins. Daud has lived in England for nearly five years. After dropping out of the university, he now works as an assistant nurse in a hospital. His most telling character trait is an almost paranoid vigilance. He senses danger everywhere. And he encounters it everywhere. Daud confronts the situation with a mixture of resignation and scathing cynicism. He does not try to combat the myriad of prejudices. Instead, he reacts to the role assigned to him by playing it to a radical degree. Just when his situation seems utterly hopeless and inescapable, a young Englishwoman named Catherine comes into his life. It is not Daud's first affair with a white woman, the representation of melancholia in. The protagonist, Daud, is confronted with the racist climate of his new homeland, England. After having tried to hide his past, love for a woman entices Daud to tell his story. He can then recount what happened in his tragic upbringing and the traumatic memories of the political turmoil in Tanzania that forced him into flight. The novel ends with Daud’s visit to Canterbury cathedral where he meditates on the parallels between the Christian pilgrims who visited the place in past times and his own journey to England.
Since the introduction of Nobel Prize in 1901, 118 literature laureates won it. But the interesting thing is more than 80 percent or total 95 of them belong to Europe or North America that raises questions about the honesty of the organization. In 2021 Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah won it for his dealing with the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugees in the gulf between cultures and continents. The entire globe now witnesses the refugees due to humanitarian crisis prevailing all corners of the world and people are dying and are being hurt around the world. The issue of refugee must be taken seriously into consideration and Gurnah hopes that his getting this prize will sensitize the global leaders to start discussion on the issue. We endorse his views and hopes to see a world free from all sorts of refugee crisis and its ultimate effect.

The writer works as an education expert in BRAC Education. He is also and is president, English Teachers’ Association of Bangladesh.
Email: [email protected]

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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