New book by Abdulrazak Gurnah ‘The Last Gift’

Of loss and longing

After 43 years as an immigrant, novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah still misses home, and this theme pervades his work, writes Bron Sibree

It is often said of Tanzanian-born British novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah that he illuminates the immigrant experience like no other. But Gurnah is at pains to say: “I bring something additional rather than new.”

He went to England from Zanzibar in 1968 and revealed himself to be one of the most gifted writers of his generation with his debut 1987 novel, Memory of Departure. Since then he has explored displacement and identity, guilt and exile in seven acclaimed novels including Paradise, which was shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award, By the Sea, shortlisted for the Los Angeles Book Prize and France’s RFI Temoin du Monde Prize, and Desertion, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Commonwealth Prize.

Indeed, for this engaging 63-year-old professor of English at Kent University, migration is not only the central theme of his own life, he insists, “but it is one of the big stories of contemporary life”.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that he should continue the story of the immigrant experience in his new novel, The Last Gift. But in this, his eighth novel and 10th book, Gurnah has shifted his gaze onto the aftershock of displacement and the way it reverberates down to the next generation. The beautifully written novel also doubles as a subtle meditation on family life, the nature of shame, guilt, identity and the pain of ageing.

It begins with Abbas, a 63-year-old engineer who is coming home from work in a Norwich bus when he experiences what turns out to be a diabetic crisis followed by a stroke. For years, Abbas has played the “laughing storyteller” for his English-born children, Jamal and Hanna. But he has avoided telling them or his wife, Maryam, the fundamental story of his life, or even what country he is from. Now as they gather round him, his family are stunned by revelations of his former life in Zanzibar.

Read full article @ Times Live

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~ by eneryvibes on 1,July 31, 2011.

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