Bridging gaps through fiction.

Byline: Munizeh Zuberi

ABDUL Razak Gurnah is a man of very calm and composed demeanour. His delight upon his surprise win of the 2021 Nobel Prize for literature is not immediately obvious. And this is a writer who writes explicitly and intensively about the passionate emotions of his novels' protagonists.

On October 8, the 72-year-old Gurnah received a call from an unidentified number at his Kent home in the United Kingdom. Thinking it was just another cold caller he blurted, 'What do you want?' The person on the line informed him he had won this year's Nobel Prize for literature. Convinced that it was a prank as he was not even aware of his nomination, he only believed the news once the announcement appeared on his computer screen!

Only the fourth person of African descent to win this prestigious prize in its 120-year history in this category, in less than a month since the announcement, Gurnah's life has changed forever. His 10 novels to date, After Life, being the latest one printed last year, have received high critical acclaim but limited readership, which is definitely set to change. According to the Nobel Committee, his prize's motivation is 'his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.'

For Gurnah, the best part of winning the Nobel Prize has been to see how much happiness it has brought to people around the world, most of whom he does not even know. When he reads about celebrations being held in his native Zanzibar, in different parts of Africa and the Arab world, in the UK etc. it greatly delights him.

Born in the Sultanate of Zanzibar, Gurnah migrated to the United Kingdom in the late 1960s as an 18-year-old refugee, fleeing the bloody revolution on his native island. 'At that time I would have been nervous about using the word refugee; at that time it seemed to me a noble word. So what I mean by that is that a refugee is somebody who has suffered either for political or other reasons. To claim to be one of those when you are well and healthy and have travelled on plane to get to where are seemed to me kind of a melodrama, making too much of what had happened to us. But maybe it was a kind of modesty which wasn't necessary,' he says.

Gurnah makes Saleh Omar, the old man in his most famous work, By the Sea, claim that he's a refugee when he arrives at Gatwick Airport. In other words, he claims something noble. For 18-year-old...

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