The “poignant description of the effects of colonialism” that permeates the books of the Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah have made him worthy of Nobel Prize for Literature 2021, an award that returns to the continent two decades after South African John Maxwell Coetzee received it in 2003.
Gurnah was born on the island of Zanzibar in 1948 and left her land two decades later for the United Kingdom.. In 1968 he landed in a new country, on a new continent, partly to study and partly to escape the political violence and repression suffered by Zanzibaris of Arab origin.
Between 1980 and 1982, the author worked as a professor at the Bayero University, in the Nigerian city of Kano, while obtaining his doctorate in the British University of Kent, in Canterbury, where he still resides. From then until his recent retirement, he continued to write and teach English and post-colonial literature, with a special focus on the diaspora.
Unknown in Africa
This is, broadly speaking, the story of the new Nobel Prize in Literature, but between the lines there is another story of a life that we discover from the hand of Chema Caballero, writer, aid worker and Africanist, as well as one of the publishers of Libros del Baobab, a collection specialized in African literature from the publishing house Libros de las Malas Compañías
Caballero has just returned from Tanzania, Gurnah’s country of origin, where he says that this not a well known author. Perhaps it is because he has lived abroad for a long time: he settled in the United Kingdom in the early 60s and it is there that he publishes his books
“He is an author that I like a lot because although he writes in perfect English, his way of narrating is the one used to tell things in Africa. He has not lost that characteristic voice ”, explains this expert.
Caballero points out two very frequent and original themes in his literature. First, is that of “the Indian or Asian population, who settled in East Africa, the one that arrived at the end of the XIX to build the railroad or to work as merchants, and everyone they represent. ”
The other refers to the fact that “many of his works are located in the German colonial period, which was called the German East Africa. The mainland of Tanzania plus Burundi and Rwanda, which were German, and the changes brought to the area by the end of the First World War ”
“We are very used to hearing about the British or French colonies in Africa and very little about the German ones, and what they meant. Gurnah shows you very well what the irruption of German discipline, for example, ”says Caballero
This expert also underlines “the racism that occurs from Germans towards Indians and natives, and the blow that this entails for the Indians, who in turn believed themselves to be superior to the natives ”.
From Gurnah’s work, which he has read almost entirely, he is left with ‘Paradise’, published in Spain in the 90s, “because it criticizes that vision that describes the pre-colonial world as an idyllic world, when it was a world that also had its problems”
Caballero is happy with the award, but admits that he would prefer it had been given to the author who was one of the best placed in the betting, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, whose work he also knows very well and which is more widely translated in Spain
In fact, he introduced her to him on his last visit to our country, during a talk at the Reina Sofía Museum. He believes that, compared to Gurnah, Thiong’o’s is a more representative literature of what is being done in Africa. “Gurnah’s link with the mainland is not that strong, so vindictive, as political as that of other authors such as Thiong’o ”
It also says that ‘Afterlives’, Gurnah’s last novel, was one of the candidates being considered for translation in his editorial collection. They may carry it out.