The debut novel by the winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature
Vehement, comic and shrewd, Abdulrazak Gurnah's first novel is an unwavering contemplation of East African coastal life
Poverty and depravity wreak havoc on Hassan Omar's family. Amid great hardship he decides to escape.
The arrival of independence brings new upheavals as well as the betrayal of the promise of freedom. The new government, fearful of an exodus of its most able men, discourages young people from travelling abroad and refuses to release examination results. Deprived of a scholarship, Hassan travels to Nairobi to stay with a wealthy uncle, in the hope that he will release his mother's rightful share of the family inheritance.
The collision of past secrets and future hopes, the compound of fear and frustration, beauty and brutality, create a fierce tale of undeniable power.
'Gurnah is a master storyteller' FINANCIAL TIMES
'Exile has given Gurnah a perspective on the "balance between things" that is astonishing, superb' OBSERVER
'A captivating storyteller' GUARDIAN
'Gurnah etches with biting incisiveness the experiences of immigrants exposed to contempt, hostility or patronising indifference on their arrival in Britain' SPECTATOR
This haunting coming-of-age novel evokes in spare but vivid prose the exotic sights, sounds and landscapes of coastal East Africa and the spiritual rebirth of a sensitive 15-year-old. Living with his family in a poverty-stricken seaport village, the hero, Hassan Omar, is surrounded by a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and despair. His own sense of hopelessness is nurtured by the stunted lives around him: his drunken, tyrannical, libertine father; a sister, who escapes the blind-alley of their lives into headlong promiscuity; a dissolute older brother, who succumbs to the squalor and eventually dies in a freakish accident; and finally, his mother, who has fatalistically resigned herself to being brutalized by her husband. Eventually, Hassan leaves his family to stay with an uncle in Nairobi, and there he discovers a larger world, which contains its share of cruelty as well but also hope and redemptiona way out of his old life and his immobilizing self-hatred. Hassan's rite of passage eventually comes to stand for something larger, although Gurnah, who was born in Tanzania and now teaches in an English university, merely suggests this message: the hero's aspirations and dilemmas reflect the struggles of Third World Africa to shed its colonial skin, with its tradition of poverty and oppression, and to construct a new identity for itself. This is a short book, but dense, often hair-raising in its dramatic scenes of degradation and compelling in its rendering of Hassan's evolving consciousness.
Memory of departure