The Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah living in the United Kingdom is the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2021, as announced by the Swedish Academy, “for his moving description of the effects of colonialism in Africa ”. Born in 1948 in Zanzibar, he writes in English and his most famous novels are Paradise (1994), nominated for the Booker Prize and the Whitebread Prize; By the Sea (2001) and Desertion (2005). His latest title, Afterlives, was published on 2020. He is the fifth African to win this award since it was established in 1901, after Wole Soyinka (1986), Naguib Mahfouz (1988), Nadine Gordimer (1991) and John Maxwell Coetzee (2003).
The Nobel Committee has highlighted Gurnah’s work for its “uncompromising and compassionate insight into the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gap between cultures and continents.” His work moves away from “stereotypical descriptions and opens our gaze to a culturally diverse East Africa that is little known in many parts of the world,” explained the jury.
Born in Zanzibar in 1948, Gurnah settled in the UK in the late 1960s after leaving her country at a time when that the Muslim minority was being persecuted. He had studied at Bayero Kano University in Nigeria and from there moved on to the University of Kent, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1982 and where he is still a professor and director of undergraduate studies in the English department. His research focuses on postcolonialism, as well as colonialism especially related to Africa, the Caribbean and India.
Three of his novels have been published in Spanish. The most recent and still available is On the shore (2003), launched in Spain by Poliedro, which tells the story of two African refugees in the UK, Saleh Omar and Latif Mahmut, who have left Zanzibar behind. The other two are out of print, both released by the now-defunct El Aleph label: Precarious Silence (1998 ) and Paradise (1997).
The most important distinction of universal letters, endowed with about one million euros, thus falls in this edition to an African writer, after last year it was awarded to the American poet Louise Glück and in 2019 was awarded to two authors, the Polish Olga Tokarczuk and the Austrian Peter Handke, following the sexual abuse scandals and leaks that led to the postponement of months award allocation of 2018.
Gurnah has prevailed in the final decision to other names that sounded like possible winners, such as the French Annie Ernaux, the Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the Japanese Haruki Murakami, the South Korean Ko Un, the Guadeloupean Maryse Condé or the Chinese Can Xue. Other authors who always appear as favorites are Don Delillo, Salman Rushdie, Adonis, Jon Fosse, Mircea Cărtărescu, Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood. The only Spaniard on the favorites list this year was Javier Marías.