The Nobel Prize for Literature from 2021 Abdulrazak Gurnah He highlighted this Saturday in Frankfurt the diversity that exists in East Africa, when he presented the German edition of his novel “Life After”.
The fact that the first prominent character that appears in it, Khalifa, is someone with an Indian Muslim father and an African mother already shows this attempt to show the region not as something homogeneous, but as the result of an ethnic and cultural mixture.
“There were centuries of exchange across the Indian Ocean. You don’t really know where people come from in East Africa. There’s a lot of miscegenation,” he said.
Gurnah, born in Zanzibar and living in the United Kingdom, deals in his novel with the crimes of German colonialism, but more than that, he is interested in the vision of ordinary people and the way they lived in different times.
“There is a reduced narrative about that part of Africa. For a long time the version of the colonial powers was told. In recent years there have been successful attempts to tell the version of the other side. But many times the vision of ordinary people,” he said.
He added that “the colonial powers, when they left, drew arbitrary borders and that has generated a lot of confusion.”
Colonialism is one of the historical backgrounds of the novel, another is World War I in Africa and the way it was lived.
“When you talk about World War I, you often talk about what happened in Europe or the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, but not about Africa and the way people experienced the struggles that they often did not understand,” he said.
Also alluded to in the novel is the fact that at that time millions of people starved to death is alluded to in the novel.
“These are things that there is no need to shout, it is enough to say them, the reader can form his own opinion,” he said.
The same goes for colonialism, whose crimes are summarily listed. But there are characters who are involved with colonialism, like Ilyas, who enlists in the German colonial army when the war begins, after having had a life of adventures, with a German education thanks to a farmer who protects him.
Then, his trail is lost and he does not reappear until the end of the book, living in interwar Germany and linked to a movement that calls for the recovery of the colonies.
During the presentation, Gurnah was asked if continuing to write about his place of origin does not mean that, despite living in England, he has not been able to leave it behind.
“There are places that never leave us even if we leave them. Many post-colonial writers have had to leave their countries for various reasons, but they continue to write about them,” he replied.
“But that has not only happened with African writers. For example, Vladimir Nabokov also had to leave Russia, but he continued to take it with him,” he added.
The Nobel Prize winner was confronted with a question that is frequent not only for him, but also for many writers who live a long time far from their place of origin, that of whether he is still an African writer or if he has become a British writer. .
“Do I look British?”, he said before the question causing laughter from people.
“I understand the desire to label writers, because it allows people to orient themselves. But that is only acceptable if it is assumed as something provisional. It is not wrong to say that someone is a Colombian or Brazilian writer, but that says little about the writer”, he added.
Regarding him, he thinks that he is obviously an African writer who was born in Africa and writes about Africa.
“However, I have nothing against someone pointing out that I am a writer with British elements or influenced by British culture, as long as it is not an absolute description,” he said.
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Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah talks about the diversity that exists in East Africa at the Frankfurt fair