STOCKHOLM (AP) – UK-based Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose experience of crossing continents and cultures has fed his novels on the impact of migration on individuals and societies, won on Thursday the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Swedish Academy said the award was in recognition of Gurnah’s “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of the refugee.”
Gurnah, who recently retired as professor of postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent, got the call from the Swedish Academy in the kitchen of his home in the south-east of England – and has at first thought it was a prank.
He said he was “surprised and humbled” by the price.
Gurnah said the themes of migration and displacement he explored “are things that are with us every day” – even more now than when he came to Britain in the 1960s.
“People are dying, people are injured all over the world. We have to deal with these issues in the kindest way, ”he said.
“It is still dark that the Academy has chosen to highlight these themes which are present throughout my work, it is important to approach them and talk about them.”
Born in 1948 on the island of Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania, Gurnah moved to Britain as a teenage refugee in 1968, fleeing a repressive regime that persecuted the Arab-Muslim community to which he belonged.
He said he “stumbled upon” writing after arriving in England as a way to explore both loss and liberation from the emigrant experience.
Gurnah is the author of 10 novels, including “Memory of Departure”, “Pilgrims Way”, “Paradise” – shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994 – “By the Sea”, “Desertion” and “Afterlives”. Many of his works explore what he called “one of the stories of our time”: the profound impact of migration on both uprooted people and the places where they settle.
Gurnah, whose mother tongue is Swahili but who writes in English, is only the sixth African-born author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, dominated by European and North American writers since his founding in 1901.
Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, welcomed Africa’s last Nobel Laureate as proof that “the arts – and literature in particular – are booming, a strong flag waved above the depressing realities “in” a continent in permanent work.
Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature, called Gurnah “one of the world’s foremost postcolonial writers”.
“His work gives us a vivid and very precise picture of another Africa less known to many readers, a coastal area in and around the Indian Ocean marked by slavery and changing forms of repression under different regimes and powers. colonial: Portuguese, Indian, Arabs, Germans and British, ”said Olsson.
He said that the characters in Gurnah “find themselves in the chasm between cultures … between the life left behind and the life to come, confronting racism and prejudice, but also forcing themselves to silence the truth or reinvent a biography. to avoid any conflict with reality “.
Luca Prono said on the British Council website that in Gurnah’s work “identity is a matter of constant change”. The scholar said that the characters in Gurnah “disrupt the fixed identities of the people they meet in the environments to which they migrate.”
News of the award was greeted with enthusiasm in Zanzibar, where many remembered Gurnah and her family – although few actually read her books.
Gurnah’s books are not compulsory to read in schools there and “are hardly available,” said local Education Minister Simai Mohammed Said, whose wife is Gurnah’s niece. But, he added, “a son from Zanzibar brought so much pride.”
“The reaction is fantastic. Many are happy but many do not know him, although the young people are proud that he is Zanzibar, ”said Farid Himid, who described himself as a local historian whose father had taught the Quran to young Gurnah. “I haven’t had the chance to read any of his books, but my family has mentioned them.”
Gurnah didn’t travel to Zanzibar often, he said, but he suddenly became the topic of conversation for young people in the semi-autonomous island region.
“And a lot of older people are very, very happy. Me too, as Zanzibar. It’s a new step in getting people to re-read books, since the Internet has taken over.
The prestigious award is accompanied by a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $ 1.14 million). The money comes from a bequest left by the creator of the prize, the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.
Last year’s prize went to American poet Louise Glück. Glück was a popular choice after several years of controversy. In 2018, the award was postponed after allegations of sexual abuse rocked the Swedish Academy, the secret body that chooses the winners. The awarding of the 2019 prize to Austrian writer Peter Handke sparked protests because of his strong support for the Serbs during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the Physiology or Medicine Prize to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their findings on how the human body perceives temperature and touch it.
The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded Tuesday to three scientists whose work has tidied up an apparent mess, helping to explain and predict the complex forces of nature, including expanding our understanding of climate change.
Benjamin List and David WC MacMillan were named Nobel laureates in chemistry on Wednesday for finding a simpler and greener way to build molecules that can be used to make compounds, including drugs and pesticides.
Still to come are awards for outstanding work in the fields of peace and economics.
Lawless reported from London and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya. Associated Press editors Danica Kirka in London, Chinedu Asadu in Lagos, Nigeria. and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to it.
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