When Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah received the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature final October, turning into the primary Black author to win the award since Toni Morrison in 1993, his books shot to the highest of must-read lists. However within the U.S., in addition to different components of the world, the now 73-year-old writer’s backlist (10 books printed from 1987 to 2020) was largely out of print. American publishers instantly started bidding for reprint rights of Gurnah’s work, with Riverhead securing the rights to a few books, together with his acclaimed novel Afterlives, launched in 2020 within the U.Ok. and set to reach within the U.S. this August.
Within the quotation for the Nobel, Gurnah’s physique of labor is praised for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the results of colonialism and the destiny of the refugee within the gulf between cultures and continents.” These subjects are on the middle of Afterlives, a heartbreaking and sweeping story centered on the devastation led to by Germany’s colonial rule in early Twentieth-century East Africa. In Afterlives, Gurnah got down to write a novel about this era partly to convey larger consciousness to the brutalities inflicted on these dwelling in East Africa on the time. The story focuses on 4 characters who’re all touched by the warfare in several methods and examines the impression of trauma. Gurnah may be very conversant in the panorama of this narrative—he was born in Zanzibar, now Tanzania, and fled the nation as a teen, turning into a refugee at 18 and relocating to England.
TIME is completely revealing the e-book’s cowl—an intricate and layered design by Grace Han—and spoke to the Nobel laureate about profitable literature’s greatest prize, his hopes for his new readership and the issues with deeming 2021 a “large yr” for African literature.
Once you received the Nobel Prize, you primarily grew to become a “movie star” writer in a single day. How did that really feel?
To be completely sincere, I felt like sufficient of a celeb earlier than. I’ve loyal readers who’ve been studying my books for a few years, and I used to be fairly snug with that. However that is world. Folks everywhere in the world learn about it, whether or not they’re readers or not. The factor that’s been most superb is the variety of publishers the world over who wish to publish the books in their very own languages.
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What was occurring inside your head the second you realized you received?
I assumed, “It is a joke.” However then I came upon that this is fairly often the response of individuals being awarded the prize, as a result of it comes out of nowhere. What sort of author would you be in the event you had been to obtain this name and suppose, “Oh, good. I’ve been ready for this”?
With you profitable the Nobel and Damon Galgut profitable the Booker, some are calling 2021 “African literature’s large yr.” What do you make of that?
It’s nonsense. It’s suggesting one thing to do with a phenomenon of Africa relatively than these awards which were given for the standard of the writing of these specific texts. The choice panels of those awards didn’t all get collectively and say, “Hey, let’s make this Africa’s yr.” They chose writers for the writing, not the place they got here from. It’s okay if you wish to make a journalistic case that that is Africa’s yr, as long as it doesn’t make it look like some form of recognition of a area relatively than recognition of the writing itself.
Your e-book Afterlives, which will probably be printed within the U.S. in August, suits into many buckets: it’s historic fiction, a multi-generational saga and an epic love story. How do you categorize it?
It was actually about telling one thing a couple of historic episode that has not been given sufficient consideration. I additionally needed to say one thing in regards to the decision of individuals to outlive—how folks retrieve their lives after trauma, how folks come by way of these issues and set up and form themselves.
Like lots of your books, Afterlives offers with displacement, colonization and loss. What attracts you to these themes?
Partly as a result of it’s my expertise, but additionally as a result of it’s very a lot a phenomenon of the instances we stay in. Writing about dislocation or strangers discovering themselves unwelcome is to not invent something. It’s to jot down about what’s proper in entrance of our eyes.
What do you hope new readers will take away from studying Afterlives?
That they’ll have a greater grasp of that historic second and that that historic second doesn’t stand as a novel episode, however that it’s repeated in several components of the world—and maybe it’s repeated even in our instances. Forces can seem all of a sudden, disrupt, destroy and depart folks to search out methods to get well themselves. I hope they’ll take away the opportunity of talking out towards injustices.
This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.