Abdulrazak Gurnah


October 17, 2021

Abdulrazak Gurnah (born 1948 in the Sultanate of Zanzibar) is a Tanzanian writer and literary critic. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2021 for "uncompromisingly and with great compassion for having shed light on the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gap between cultures and continents."

Academic career

Gurnah was 20 years old when he emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1968. In 1982, he received his doctorate in literature from the University of Kent, where he has worked as a professor for most of his academic career. From 1980 to 1982 he was a lecturer at Bayero University Kano in Nigeria.


Gurnah's fiction often deals with issues of exclusion, cultural encounters and cultural clashes, colonialism and exile. In 2019, he contributed to the anthology Refugee Tales III, which is part of a project run by the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. This organization, which was established in 1995, works to make the fates of and the support of people detained under the British Immigration Act visible. It has published several anthologies of stories that have been written down by the organization arranging meetings between an established author and one of the inmates at one of the detention facilities at Gatwick Airport outside London. The person in custody tells his story to the author, who records it and gives it a literary form.


1987: Memory of Departure (novel) 1988: Pilgrims Way (novel) 1990: Dottie (novel) 1992: Cages (short story) - in the anthology An African Quilt: 24 Modern African Stories 1994: Paradise (novel) 1996: Admiring Silence (novel) 2001: By the Sea (novel) 2005: Desertion (novel) 2006: My Mother Lived on a Farm in Africa (short story) 2011: The Last Gift (novel) 2011: The Urge to Nowhere, essay 2016: The Arriver's Tale 2017: Gravel Heart 2019: The Stateless Person’s Tale, in the anthology The Refugee Tales, published by Comma Press 2020: Afterlives

Norwegian translations

Kari and Kjell Risvik have translated into Norwegian the novels Paradis, Tyshetens øy and Ved sjøen, which as of 2021 are the only ones in Norwegian translation. Paradis, Aschehoug 1996 - original title Paradise Island of Silence, Aschehoug 1999 - original title: Admiring Silence By the Sea, Aschehoug 2002 - original title: By the Sea

About the books

Paradise (1994)

The novel Paradise was published in English in 1994, and was published in Norwegian translation in 1996, under the title Paradis. The book is told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Yusuf, who is sent to his uncle in the city. His uncle is a merchant, and with him Yusuf will earn money to pay off his father's debts. In his uncle's shop, Yusuf observes a very diverse stream of customers.

By the sea (2001)

In 2001, Gurnah published the novel By the Sea, which in Norwegian translation was entitled By the Sea. The main character is the 65-year-old furniture dealer Rajab Shaaban. He is originally from Zanzibar, and has recently been released from an eleven-year prison term there. He has now applied for political asylum in England. Via a caseworker at the immigration office, he gets in touch with the younger academic and author Latif Muhammad, who is also from Zanzibar. Unlike Rajab, Latif has been on good terms with the regime in Zanzibar; he has received several scholarships to study in Europe. It turns out, however, that the two men have more in common than the same country of birth. Gradually, they reveal their background and past life choices

Prizes and awards

2021 - Nobel Prize in Literature


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