Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah

📍East Africa (Kenya/ Tanzania)

Nobel laureate, Abdulrazak Gurnah, needs no introduction. He won the Noble Prize in Literature in 2021, for his uncompromising and consistent retelling of stories from East Africa. He was born in 1948 and grew up in Zanzibar, and arrived in England as a refugee in the end of 1960s. Gurnah has published ten novels and a number of short stories. However, his fourth novel, Paradise; was a breakthrough, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award in 1994.

Paradise tells the story of Yusuf set during the late nineteenth century. Born in a remote village in East Africa, Yusuf gets sold off as a child, by his parents, to a wealthy Arab merchant, Aziz. The story then tracks his journey as he grows into his adolescence whilst being a servant and unpaid labourer to Aziz. As the region becomes increasingly colonised by the Europeans, the book draws parallels to the captive life of Yusuf. When he accompanies Aziz on one of the caravan journeys to the interiors of African hinterland, he encounters trading, enslaving, combat, and forms of human misery. This is when he also gets introduced to the Quran and the Muslim way of life. As Yusuf questions his purpose and principles in life, he seesaws between feelings of love and bereavement for his parents and the angst over his abandonment. He is also embittered by the cruel systems of patriarchy overwhelmingly prevalent in the region. Whilst toying with these mental conflicts, he also experiences nuances of romantic love. The climax is unnerving and surreal as Yusuf voluntarily chooses captivity over freedom. With this Gurnah makes this poignant observation of how humans would prefer their comfort zones, even if that meant being enslaved. Paradise can be paradoxical.

The book is unapologetically African in its presentation. The author takes us on this uncomfortable tour through parts of Africa, where poverty, classism and slavery remain cornerstones of the societal narrative. He doesn’t shy away from presenting differing opinions on various religions and their beliefs spoken through a myriad of characters including an Indian. He also vehemently discusses imperialism through the lens of a marginalised and colonised race. Stellar!

Gurnah’s latest book, After Lives, released in 2020, takes up where Paradise ends. Can’t wait to read!


Author: theshinydiaries

Being authentic; one day at a time!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: