Abdulrazak Gurnah receives the Nobel Prize for Literature


The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded Thursday to Abdulrazak Gurnah for “his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of the refugee in the chasm between cultures and continents”.

Gurnah was born in Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania, in 1948, but currently lives in Britain. He left Zanzibar at the age of 18 as a refugee after a violent uprising in 1964 in which soldiers overthrew the country’s government. He is the first African to win the award – considered the most prestigious in world literature – in nearly two decades.

He is fifth overall, after Wole Soyinka of Nigeria in 1986, Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt, who won in 1988; and South African winners Nadine Gordimer in 1991 and John Maxwell Coetzee in 2003.

Gurnah’s 10 novels include “Memory of Departure,” “Pilgrims Way” and “Dottie,” all of which deal with the immigrant experience in Britain; “Paradise,” selected for the Booker Prize in 1994, about a boy in an East African country marked by colonialism; and “Admiring Silence”, about a young man who leaves Zanzibar for England, where he gets married and becomes a teacher.

Gurnah’s first language is Swahili, but he adopted English as his literary language, his prose often tinged with traces of Swahili, Arabic and German.

Anders Olsson, chairman of the awarding committee, told a press conference on Thursday that Gurnah “is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost post-colonial writers.” Gurnah “constantly and with great compassion penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa and its effects on the lives of uprooted and migrant individuals,” he added.

The characters in his novels, said Olsson, “find themselves in the chasm between cultures and continents, between the life left behind and the life to come, confronting racism and prejudice, but also forcing themselves to silence the truth or to reinvent the biography to avoid conflicts. with reality.

Laura Winters, writing in The New York Times in 1996, called “Paradise” a “scintillating, oblique coming-of-age fable,” adding that “Admiring Silence” was a work that “skillfully portrays the agony of ‘a man caught between two cultures, each of which would deny him for his links with the other.

In an interview with the Africainwords website earlier this year, Gurnah explained how, in his recent book ‘Afterlives’, he sought to shed light on how those affected by war and colonialism are shaped but not defined by these experiences, and how this grew out of stories that ‘he heard growing up. in Zanzibar.

“I was surrounded by people who experienced these things firsthand and who were talking about them,” he said. “These stories have always been with me and I needed time to organize them in this story. My academic work also shaped these stories.

Gurnah noted that throughout his career he has dealt with issues of displacement, exile, identity and belonging.

“There are different ways of experiencing belonging and non-belonging. How do people see themselves as part of a community? How are some included and others excluded? Who owns the community? he said.

As a prelude to this year’s award ceremony, the literature award was cited for lack of diversity among its laureates. Journalist Greta Thurfjell, write in Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish newspaper, noted that 95 of the 117 former Nobel laureates came from Europe or North America, and only 16 winners were women. “Can it really go on like this?” ” she asked.

American poet Louise Glück received the Literature Prize last year for writing “that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”, according to the quote from the Nobel Committee. Its price was seen as a much needed price reset after several years of scandal.

In 2018, the academy postponed the award after the husband of an academy member was accused of sexual misconduct and leaking the names of the contestants to bookies. Academy member Jean-Claude Arnault was then sentenced to two years in prison for rape.

The following year, the academy awarded the 2018 Deferred Prize to Olga Tokarczuk, an experimental Polish novelist. But the academy has come under fire for awarding the 2019 prize to Peter Handke, an Austrian author and playwright who has been accused of genocide denial for questioning events during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, including the massacre of Srebrenica, in which around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered.

Lawmakers in Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo have denounced the decision, as have several prominent novelists, including Jennifer Egan and Hari Kunzru.

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  • Three scientists whose work “laid the foundation for our knowledge of Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it” received the physics award on Tuesday: Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University; Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany; and Giorgio Parisi from La Sapienza University in Rome

  • Benjamin List and David WC MacMillan received the chemistry prize on Wednesday for the development of a more environmentally friendly tool for building molecules.

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