Tanzanian Abdul Razzaq Jarna was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

Written by David Keaton and Jill Lawless

Stockholm (AFP) – UK-based Tanzanian writer Abdul Razak Jarna, whose experience crossing continents and cultures fueled his novels about the impact of migration on individuals and societies, won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday.

The Swedish Academy said the award was in recognition of Gourna’s “relentless and merciful penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees in the Gulf between cultures and continents.”

Kornet, who had recently retired from his job as a postcolonial professor at the University of Kent, received a call from the Swedish Academy in the kitchen of his home in southeast England.

“I’m so excited,” he told The Associated Press. “I just heard the news.”

Born in 1948 on the island of Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania, Gharna moved to Britain as a teenage refugee in 1968, escaping the oppressive regime that persecuted his Arab Muslim community.

He said he “stumbled into” writing after arriving in England as a way to explore both the loss and liberation of the immigrant experience.

Qurna authored 10 novels, among them “The Memory of the Departure”, “The Pilgrims’ Road” and “Paradise” – nominated for the 1994 Booker Prize – by the Sea and “Abandonment”. Many of his works explore what he calls “one of the stories of our time”: the profound impact of migration on both the uprooted people and the places where they make their new homes.

Gourna, whose mother tongue is Swahili but writes in English, is the sixth African-born writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, which has been dominated by European and North American writers since its founding in 1901.

And Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Literature, called him “one of the world’s leading writers of the post-colonial period”. It was important, he said, that Gourna’s roots go back to Zanzibar, a place that “was cosmopolitan long before globalization was rewarding”.

His work gives us a very vivid and accurate picture of another Africa not well known to many readers, a coastal region in and around the Indian Ocean marked by slavery and changing forms of oppression under various colonial regimes and powers: the Portuguese, the Indians, the Arabs, the Germans and the British.

Garna’s characters, he said, “find themselves in the gap between cultures…between the life left behind and the life to come, in the face of racism and prejudice, but also forcing themselves to silence the truth or reinvent an autobiography to avoid conflict with reality.”

Luca Bruno said on the British Council’s website that in Jarna’s work, “identity is a matter of constant change”. The academic said Garna’s personalities “disturb the established identities of people they meet in the environments to which they migrate.”

News of the award was met with excitement in Zanzibar, where he was described by those who knew Gourna as kind-hearted and humble.

The reaction is wonderful. “Many are happy but many do not know him, though the young are proud that he is a Zanzibari,” said Farid Hamid, who described himself as a local historian whose father was the young Qurna Quran teacher. “I haven’t had a chance to read any of his books, but my family has talked about it.”

He said that Gourna did not visit Zanzibar often, but that he had suddenly become the talk of the people in the semi-autonomous peninsula region.

“And a lot of old people are very happy. Me too, as a Zanzibari. It is a new step to get people to read books again, as the Internet has taken over.”

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (more than $1.14 million). The money comes from a will left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

Last year’s award was given to American poet Louise Gluck for what the judges described as “her clear poetic voice that makes individual existence universal with her unyielding beauty.”

The Glock was a popular choice after several years of controversy. In 2018, the award was postponed after sexual assault allegations rocked the Swedish Academy, the secretive body that selects winners. The award of the 2019 prize to Austrian writer Peter Handke caused protests over his strong support for Serbs during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The Nobel Committee on Monday awarded a prize in physiology or medicine to Americans David Julius and Erdem Patabutian for their discoveries about how the human body perceives temperature and touch.

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded Tuesday to three scientists whose work has found a system in apparent turbulence, helping to explain and predict nature’s complex forces, including broadening our understanding of climate change.

Benjamin List and David WC MacMillan were named Nobel Chemistry laureates Wednesday for finding an easier and environmentally cleaner way to build molecules that can be used to make compounds, including drugs and pesticides.

Awards for outstanding work in the fields of peace and economics are yet to come.


Lawless reported from London. Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London, Frank Jordan in Berlin and Kara Anna in Nairobi. Kenya contributed.


Read more stories about Nobel Prizes past and present by The Associated Press at https://www.apnews.com/NobelPrizes

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