He writes about colonialism. Abdulrazak Gurnah from Tanzania won the Nobel Prize for Literature

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He writes about colonialism. Abdulrazak Gurnah from Tanzania won the Nobel Prize for Literature

Seventy-three-year-old Abdulrazak Gurnah from Tanzania in East Africa received the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday. The Swedish academy praised him for “uncompromisingly and compassionately penetrating the consequences of colonialism and the fate of refugees torn between different cultures and continents.”

Gurnah became the first African black writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature since 1986, when he was awarded Wole Soyinka from Nigeria.

A native of Zanzibar, whose mother tongue is Swahili, he left for Britain as a student in 1968. Today he writes in English and lives in Brighton. From the early 1980s, he lectured for two years at Bayer University in Kano, Nigeria, then moved back to Britain to the University of Kent in Canterbury, where he received his doctorate. He taught English literature at the same school since 1985 and headed the postgraduate department. In addition, he worked as the editor of the British literary magazine Wasafiri. He is interested in postcolonial fiction and its relationship to the history of Africa, the Caribbean and India. He has published two parts of essays on African prose.

In the first three novels of the late 1980s, he conveyed from various angles the experience of an immigrant coming to the UK, which he himself experienced in the 1960s. Also the protagonist of his book In Admiring Silence is a man from Zanzibar who marries an Englishwoman and writes romantic stories about Africa from his memories.

Gurnah is best known for the 1994 prose Paradise, set in Africa during the First World War. Contains myths, legends and religious motifs. He was also a relative success with the novel Desertion (Abandonment or Desertion) from the new millennium. He was nominated for a Booker Prize for both titles. In total, he is the author of many short stories and ten novels, none of which have been translated into Czech.

According to the British daily Guardian, Gurnah is characterized by an effort to provide a non-Eurocentric view. In his latest novel, Afterlives, last year, he considered the impact of colonialism and war on future generations and what literature and the world are impoverished if they exclude the African view from the canon. “How will we remember if we don’t know what was erased?” the Guardian asked.

“It was such a surprise that I waited until I heard the announcement before I believed it,” Gurnah told Reuters on Thursday afternoon, thanking the academy. “It’s just great, such a big award with a long list of great laureates, I’m still absorbing it,” he added.

The Swedish Academy then published a text outlining the author’s background. “His commitment to truth and a reluctance to simplify are remarkable. His writing seems bleak and uncompromising, but at the same time follows the fates of individuals with great understanding and unwavering determination. unknown in other parts of the world, “said the academy.

Alexandra Pringle, a longtime editor of Bloomsbury’s Gurnah books, told the Guardian that the Nobel Prize for a hitherto neglected novelist is well deserved. “He’s one of Africa’s greatest living writers, and no one has ever paid much attention to him. And it ruined me. I spoke on a podcast last week saying he was a man they ignored. And now this is what happened,” she said.

According to the ČTK agency, the election of this year’s laureate confirms that the decisions of the Swedish Academy are often surprising and seldom correspond to the predictions of literary critics or scientists.

Candidates for the Nobel Prize for Literature can be nominated by academics, critics, literary organizations and existing laureates. In cooperation with external advisors, the winner is selected by the 18-member Swedish Academy, which has existed since 1786. Its permanent secretary is the literary scholar Mats Malm. In the last three years, half of the academics have changed, with the writer Ellen Mattson being one of the youngest.

“The winner must be someone who writes top notch, who you read and feel some strength, development from all his works,” Mattson described this week. “We never look at the personal life of the author. This is completely irrelevant. We are only looking for excellent literature,” she added.

The year before, the then president of the academy, Anders Olsson, declared that the Nobel Prize for Literature was still too oriented towards men and European authors. Since then, the jurors have awarded two women: Olga Tokarczuk from Poland and last year the American Louise Glück.

The British Guardian reminded this week that the Swedish Academy has had a darker period. At first, she struggled with the sexual harassment affair, which postponed the 2018 award. One of the jurors, Jean-Claude Arnault, eventually ended up in prison for two years, and his wife, Katarina Frostenson, had to leave the academy when it became clear that she had not kept the winner’s name secret until the announcement.

The year before, the academy drew attention again when it honored the Austrian Peter Handke, criticized for denying Serbian violence during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.


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