Novelist Abdul Razak Gurna, 73, born in Tanzania and resides in Britain, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday.
The jury explained that the author, whose most famous work is Paradis (Paradise), was awarded the prize for his “sympathetic and uncompromising narrative of the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees stuck between cultures and continents.”
In his first comments after the win, Gorna said he was grateful to the Academy, adding: “It’s great, it’s a big award, and in the middle of a huge list of great writers, I’m still trying to understand it.”
“It was a surprise, and I didn’t believe it until I heard the announcement,” he said.
The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature called on Europe to consider refugees arriving from Africa as a fortune, stressing that these “do not come empty-handed.”
In an interview with the Nobel Foundation, the writer said that “many of these (…) come out of necessity, and frankly because they have what to offer. And they don’t come empty-handed.” He urged a change in perception of “talented and energetic people”.
Abdul Razzaq Gurna’s latest books are in a London bookstore after his victory was announced on Thursday
“Dedication to Truth”
Gorna’s novel “Paradise” was published in 1994 and tells the story of a child who grew up in Tanzania at the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel won the Booker Prize, which represented a major achievement in the author’s career as a novelist.
In a statement announcing the winner’s name, the Nobel Committee for Literature said: “Abdul-Razzaq Gurna’s devotion to truth, and his dislike for simplification, are astonishing.”
“His novels depart from stereotypes, and open our eyes to a culturally diverse East Africa, unknown to many around the world,” she added.
She continued, “His characters find themselves in a chasm between cultures and continents, between a life that was there, and a life that is emerging, it is an insecure state that can never be resolved.”
The prize awarded by the Swedish Academy is worth ten million kronor, or about $1.14 million.
Gurna was born in 1948 on the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania, but fled there in 1968 when the Muslim minority was being persecuted..
Gurna, who was linked to the Arabian Peninsula by family roots, fled from the Zanzibar archipelago in the Indian Ocean to England, and was not able to return to Zanzibar until 1984 to see his father, who was in conflict.
Although Gurna has been writing since he was twenty-one, he has published ten novels since 1987, in addition to other books. His new novel, Afterlife, a sequel to Paradise, is set in the early twentieth century as the German colonial era in Tanzania ended.
He writes in English, although his first language is Swahili, spoken in Tanzaya.
He was Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent, Canterbury, until his retirement some time ago.
Gurna is the first black African to win the award since Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka won in 1986.
“When I came to England, the word ‘asylum seeker’ did not mean what it means today, with many people suffering to escape from terrorist countries,” the novelist said in a 2016 interview.
“The world is much more violent than it was in the 1960s, so there is more pressure now on safe countries, they are definitely attracting more people,” he added.
When asked about his classification as a “post-colonial” or “world literature”, he said: “I prefer not to use any of these phrases, I do not classify myself as a writer in any of the classifications. In fact, I am not sure if I call myself anything other than My name”.
Abdul Razzaq Gurna’s books
literary merit standard
Last year, the American poet Louise Gluck received the most famous literary prize for her “distinguished poetic voice, whose abstract beauty gives a universal character to individual existence.”
Many expectations favored the Swedish Academy’s implementation of its promise to expand its geographical horizons, despite the keenness of its president, Anders Olsson, to reiterate his assertion that “moral merit” is the “absolute and only criterion”.
Most of the Nobel Prizes for Literature have so far been awarded to writers from the West, and since China’s Mo Yan won in 2012, only writers from Europe or North America have been awarded.
Of the 117 winners in the literature category since the Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, 95 are Europeans or North Americans, or more than 80 percent. As for the number of men from this list, Orna won 102, compared to only 16 women.