Abdulrazak Gurnah: "Today’s society is finally aware of the cruelty of colonialism"

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In 2021, when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature by “its uncompromising and compassionate insight into the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees in the chasm between cultures and continents“, Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar, 1948) wanted this award to “put the issue of migration back on the public agenda.” A reality that the Tanzanian writer, who has lived in Great Britain for more than half a century, has explored from the heart in works such as Paradise, On the shore o Life after. “It is a common theme in my work because I believe it is a reality of contemporary life. In the world there are billions of people who, for one reason or another, are misplaced, displaced. They have roots, but they have been forced to flee their home to save their life, as happens in the Middle East and Ukraine. For me they are refugees. Today we use “refugee” for anyone who leaves their country, but for me it is the one who leaves to save their skin,” he defends.

There is a lot of that in The deserter (Salamandra), a 2005 novel that now arrives in Spain for the first time. In it the writer narrates two improbable love stories from different times, one at the end of the 19th century, when British colonialism imposed its dogmas on the coast of what is now Tanzania, and another 50 years later, where we see a prosperous colonial world. that is about to fade away to give way to an uncertain independence. The Gurnah universe is multicultural, but not as we see it from EuropeExplain.

“The radical division between East and West not applicable. The world from which I come, that of the Indian Ocean, has its own history of communication, travel and trade between countries and different places such as the Arabian Peninsula, the East Coast of Africa, Southeast Asia and even China. “We were already cosmopolitan,” he points out. Therefore, his novels do not narrate “a simple encounter between two cultures, but instead try to explore how these layers overlap and discover connections, which are not always evident. “It’s a complex panorama, and I like complex paintings.”

Rashid, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, a transcript of Gurnah himself, dreams of traveling to London to study after a brilliant time at the colonial school, centers that in reality destroyed local cultures in favor of a univocal vision of history and the society. “The colonial world produced people who got their education and knowledge from people who despised them, who told them that everything they knew and believed was bullshit. and that truth and wisdom came from the worldview of the European metropolis. That model raised several generations,” laments the writer.

“Part of the reeducation that people of my time, and similar ones, have to undertake, is learning to understand this knowledge and contextualize it. To remove the bias and add other diverse and rich ideas and visions of the world, also those of our cultural traditions . One of the things that we have seen in recent decades, at least in my academic life, is precisely the questioning of received knowledge, its dismantling. The question that the cultural ideal of, in this case the British Empire, is not the complete story that explains the world.”

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