Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah. Alamy Stock Photo
Abdulrazak Gurnah

Tanzanian novelist and former refugee wins Nobel Prize for Literature for works on colonialism

Abdulrazak Gurnah was forced to leave his home country of Tanzania as an 18-year-old

LAST UPDATE | Oct 7th 2021, 12:32 PM

NOVELIST ABDULRAZAK GURNAH has been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature for his work which has highlighted colonialism and the fate of refugees. 

Gurnah was himself a refugee having been born and growing up on the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean before arriving in England in mid-1960’s.

Gurnah was born in 1948 with Tanzania being liberated from British colonial rule in December 1963. The subsequent regime of President Abeid Karume led to oppression and persecution of citizens of Arab origin with Gurnah belonging to the victimised ethnic group. 

Gurnah was forced to leave his home country as an 18-year-old and did not return until 1984, shortly before his father’s death. 

Gurnah has published ten novels and a number of short stories with the theme of the refugee’s disruption running throughout his work.

Although Swahili was his first language he has written predominately in English, with 1994′s Paradise considered his breakthrough novel.

In awarding Gurnah the Nobel Prize, the Academy said the award was: 

For his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.

The Academy adds: “In Abdulrazak Gurnah’s treatment of the refugee experience, focus is on identity and self-image. Characters find themselves in a hiatus between cultures and continents, between a life that was and a life emerging; it is an insecure state that can never be resolved.”

There had been speculation ahead of today’s announcement that the Swedish Academy could award the Nobel Literature Prize today to a writer from Asia or Africa, following a pledge to make the prestigious prize more diverse.

Of the 117 literature laureates since the first Nobel was awarded in 1901, 95 — or more than 80 percent — have been Europeans or North Americans.

France alone has won 15 times, more than any other country. Glaringly, 101 men have won and only 16 women.

The five members of the Academy’s Nobel committee then study the works of those five authors, before presenting their choice to the entire Academy, which votes on a winner shortly before the October announcement.

Their deliberations are kept secret for 50 years.

The Nobel season continues Friday in Oslo with the Peace Prize, followed next Monday by the Economics Prize.

With reporting by © – AFP 2021

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