A decision on the Nobel Prize for Literature has seldom been justified more politically by the jury: Abdulrazak Gurnah receives the award for “his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees in the gulf between cultures and continents”.

The multiple alliteration is the most literary part of the reason given by the Swedish Academy that awards the award.

So far, Gurnah, who was born in 1948 in the Sultanate of Zanzibar, which was still under British administration at the time, is now a Tanzanian citizen and lives in London, has only landed on shortlists of important English-language literary prizes with his books - he had never won.

Until yesterday.

Andreas Platthaus

Editor in charge of literature and literary life.

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But besides the critical examination of colonialism, are there any other characteristics of the ten novels by Gurnah so far?

To many critics they appear academic, but that fits with the quoted assessment of the Swedish Academy.

Unfortunately, German readers are currently having a hard time checking this, because since “Desertion” from 2005, which was translated as “Die Abtrünnigen” a year later, no book by Gurnah has been published in this country, and like his four others it is ins German novels have not been available for years.

Here more is honored than a single writer

Does that speak against the books or against the literary intuition of the local audience? In any case, the fact is that nowhere else in the world is so much foreign-language literature translated and the colonial discourse has blossomed in recent years - especially since Zanzibar was also briefly a German colony. Obviously, our publishers saw no sales potential in Gurnah's literature in the end.

This is going to change. And this curiosity provoked by the most important literary prize in the world is exactly what the award to Gurnah was aimed at. He honors more than a single writer. It is a reparation by the Swedish Academy for failing to meet the changed expectations of the public and also for its own claims. Since the Chinese writer Mo Yan received an award in 2013, all the Nobel Prize in literature had gone to European or North American authors, and before that, the ratio of writers from the “First” to those from the “Third World” was hardly any better. However, the aim of the award is to reward world literature in a geographical sense, i.e. to have everything in view. So, eighteen years after JM Coetzee, it was Africa's turn again;there undoubtedly appears excellent literature. And for black African writers, one even has to go back to the 1986 Nobel Prize for Wole Soyinka to find the immediate predecessor of Abdulrazak Gurnah.

Blackhearted, blacklist, blackmail

In the context of authors of this provenance, however, the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong'o, a long-standing candidate for the award, has been much more successful internationally than Gurnah. Both are united by the autobiographical foundation of their fictional writing. In Gurnah's 2001 novel "Ferne Gestade", which was published in German in 2002, two protagonists are told, and one of them is an elderly man from Zanzibar who arrives in London allegedly not knowing the language to obtain political asylum. There he meets a compatriot, a literary scholar who is already established in England, and tells him: “I am a refugee, an asylum seeker. It is not simply said that way, even if it might seem that way through getting used to hearing such things.I arrived at Gatwick Airport late afternoon on November 23rd last year. It is a familiar high point in our stories that we leave what we know and arrive in strange places, carrying small, jumbled luggage with us and our secret and obscured intentions. "