The Nobel Prize in Literature 2021


Dr. Biswajit Das
Professor and Dean School of Languages

Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2021 winner of Nobel Prize in Literature, is an Arab-origin, Tanzanian-born novelist and academic, who is now based in the United Kingdom. Born on 20 December 1948 in the Indian Ocean island of the Sultanate of Zanzibar (now a part of Tanzania), Abdulrazak had to flee and move to the United Kingdom as a refugee in the 1968s at the age of 18, because of the violent post-colonial Zanzibar Revolution (against the ruling Arab elite) that resulted in mass oppression with particular onslaught on the ethnic citizens of Arab origin. He could return to Zanzibar only in 1984 shortly before his father’s death.  Now a British citizen, he maintains close contact with his family and folks in Tanzania and is often quoted as saying ‘I am from there. In my mind I live there.”

Educated at Christ Church College, Canterbury and University of Kent (where he obtained his PhD thesis—Thesis title: Criteria in the Criticism of West African Fiction) after his childhood education in Zanzibar, Abdulrazak went on to become and remained a professor of English and post-colonial literature at the University of Kent until his retirement, and continued there as an Emeritus Professor after his retirement.

Gurnah has published ten novels and a number of short stories. The ten novels have the following titles and publication years (within parentheses):

Memory of Departure (1987)            Pilgrims Way (1988)

Dottie (1990)                                       Paradise (1994)

Admiring Silence (1996)                      By the Sea (2001)

Desertion (2005)                                 The Last Gift (2011)

Gravel Heart (2017)                            Afterlives (2020)

The theme that runs consistently through all his works, starting with his earliest writings at 21 years of age up to his latest novel Afterlives published in 2020, is centered around the disruption caused to the regugees, the effects of colonialism, exile, displacement, broken promises on the part of the state, and the fates of the refugees sandwiched in the gulf between cultures and continents. Gurnah’s novels explore life alternating sequences of the journey reflecting on the sepia-tinted memory of the past. They illuminate the delicacy of race, culture and tradition to sustain and surface. All books have infused his unconscious memory and contextual crux in a seamless flaw. Portrayal of diversity is his esoteric intellectual penance.

Influenced by Arabic and Persian poetry and the works of Shakespeare through V. S. Naipaul, Gurnah broke with tradition to give expression to a yearning for a pristine pre-colonial Africa.   The plots and the narratives given in the novels by Gurnah seem to be based on his childhood memory, his constant interaction with his family and friends in East Africa, and his own experience as a refugee, with change of names, places, and identities.

Three of Gurnah’s literary works got international recognition: Paradise  (1994), shortlisted for both the Booker and the White bread Prize, Desertion (2005) and By the Sea (2001) longlisted for the Booker and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  He won the RFI Témoin du Monde (Witness of the world) award in France for his book By the Sea.   In 2006, Gurnah was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The final recognition of his literary genius has now come in the form of 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature.


The Nobel Prize in Literature 2021, Bibliography,

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