Thursday, September 22, 2022

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Re: gurnah

A member on this list is completing a book on Gurnah. I have been privileged to read three of his draft chapters.


From: <> on behalf of Harrow, Kenneth <>
Date: Thursday, September 22, 2022 at 11:52 PM
To: <>
Subject: USA Africa Dialogue Series - gurnah

dear all

some time ago gurnah won the nobel prize, and to my shame i had to admit i had not read any of his work. there was some desultory conversation afterward as about it, but then it was dropped.

i think gloria was good enough to give us access to three of his novels. i now have read two: the very first, Memory of Departure, and then Paradise. the first was the work of a young, and i might say not particularly gifted author. he was 39. it was aboout a youth taken from his family and ultimately transported to the mainland where he went through various hardships in growing up. the beginning was a bit painful since the drunkenness of his father, his violence in beating his son all the time, the weakness oof his mother before this terrible father--all were repeated a bit too often, until finally the relief of the yooung boy becoming a young man, able to strike out on his own, sure of himself etc. well, this was no Portrait of the Artists as  Young Man, but as it went on i enjoyed it more and more, got into this sense of a young intelligent boy making decisions for himself, falling in love, striking out, etc. it was not so bad by the end.

the second one i read, Paradise, written some 7 years later, was really quite good. it followed a similar trajectory, the young boy (now father much less of a bastard, mother less dominated, but still, home something to leave behind). the boy is....welll, i don't know if i should tell the whole story and ruin it for others. it is set in the colonial period when germans were taking over tanganyika--german east africa--on the eve of world war one. the real story of this youth growing up was increasingly compellling, especially when it finally hit me that this was the Joseph story retold in tanzanian/zanzibarian cloth.

it got very good, very compelling and original. i highly recommend it.


in the back of my mind was inevitably this thought: this writing is pretty good. ngugi's novels, for me include some that are top of the list, and some i like less. but his impact was enormous, especially given his essays. that gurnah got the nobel, and not ngugi, totally baffles me. i could go on, but leave it there. gurnah is worth reading. but he certainly did not mark the world of african literature as did ngugi.


now i am on too the third novel, and looking forward to it. it is called Afterlives, aand won the booker.



kenneth harrow

professor emeritus

dept of english

michigan state university

517 803-8839

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