Africa, the hero’s journey and the last Nobel – La Tercera

Just once, Yusuf can finally choose what to do with his destiny. He is now 18 years old, and he hardly has the opportunity, he uses his legs to run after a different life. Strictly speaking, the entire plot of Paradise, shows him as a survivor.

The novel is the most recognized work in the career of Abdulrazak Gurnah, the flaming Tanzanian writer, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, and whose work in the Spanish language was practically absent. It was after the announcement of the award given by the Swedish Academy that the Spanish publisher Salamandra announced that it would publish Gurnah in our language.

This has just materialized, since Paradise It is now available in our country, to the delight of all the curious reading public to know the work of an author who is clearly unknown, and who since last October achieved explosive notoriety.

Original from 1994, and set in the first decades of the 20th century, in deep black Africa, Paradise is a journey of initiation and growth for Yusuf, a 12-year-old boy who sees how his peaceful and humble life in the fictional city of Kawa is interrupted when one day his father sends him on a trip with a character he calls Uncle Aziz . But what he discovers shortly after to his horror is that Aziz is not his uncle, he is not even a relative. He is a rich merchant. And the reason for his trip is that it was pawned by his father to be able to pay off a debt he had with the merchant. In this way, Yusuf is forced to work as a servant, without receiving pay.

On the way he meets another boy, Khalil, who also lives that same destiny of servitude. Gurnah himself, in an interview with the Spanish media La Vanguardia, commented that this was not a fiction.

“It was not a common practice, but it was done … also in Europe, just read Dickens to see that children were treated as commercial property. It still happens, in one way or another: children are left as a guarantee that a loan will be paid, they are handed over to a family that does not have them and this makes a payment, they become enslaved … there are many variables – he pointed out the writer-. I wanted to show the impotence of minors before those decisions of their parents, it is the same that happens to women in other contexts ”.

Through his travels accompanying the merchant, Yusuf shows a somewhat dumb personality, quite childish and innocent, but who collides head-on and without warning with a world that sometimes seems too harsh for him. These are the years before the First World War, and the tension with the German colonialists is perceived. It does not narrate any specific episode, but Gurnah secretly introduces that dilemma between subordinates and dominant.

Another conflict that the author touches is that of Muslim minorities in Tanzania, victims of constant discrimination. In fact, Gurnah himself had to emigrate from his native Zanzibar because of the persecution of those who professed Islam. Although Yusuf’s experience is even more complex, since due to his young age he did not know the precepts of religion and he is learning them along the way.

But the thread, which Luke Skywalker, is the hero’s journey. That is the key to understanding the book. “My claim was to narrate a trip to the human interior, I read and interviewed people who had made similar trips, with the intention that they would not remain in oral memory,” says Gurnah. Certainly, there are exciting or terrifying moments, but my main objective was to recover the memory of these people, to show their way of life, full of difficulties and also beautiful moments ”.

In addition, on his journey through Central Africa and the Congo, he marvels at the idyllic landscapes that he comes across. Those images in a certain part reflect Gurnah’s relationship with nature. “They are images of places that were stuck forever in the memory of my childhood. Landscapes are an important part of the book. This area of ​​Africa is often referred to as a dark and wild place. I wanted to say that it is much more than that ”, says the author in the aforementioned interview.

Likewise, the natural is very present in the novel, as well as a dichotomy that had been inherited since the middle of the 19th century: that of civilization versus barbarism. “You don’t ask a shark or a snake why it attacks. The same thing happens with a savage. That’s what it is, ”says one of the characters during a scene. With the reading of Paradise, Gurnah invites us on an expedition through Africa beyond the cartoonish imaginary of the continent. An area appears with its social problems displayed.

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Africa, the hero’s journey and the last Nobel – La Tercera