The great writers are capable of metamorphosis and travel across a gulf of time and a hiatus of cultures and continents because their narratives speak to the sentiments and reason common to all humankind. Enter Abdulrazak Gurnah, this year’s Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, in this celestial constellation of great writers. The following is what I think about Gurnah based on reading his interview with today’s Reuter.
Gurnah, born in Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) in 1948, went to England in the 1960s as a refugee fleeing from the political turmoil and social unrest of his native country. Then began his migrant’s song composed of multiple strands of his experience, thoughts, and feelings that became polyphonic acapella in variant notes and rhythms. Unlike many other laureates of prestigious literary awards or esteemed recognition, Gurnah is a champion of underdogs who were not expensively educated in private institutions and, above all, who were not born into the surroundings of English as mother tongue. Working at the places where his privileged literary peers would not think of, Gurnah wrote in English as Second Language as his Lingua Franca literary tool. The result is his enchantment of readers to a fantastic maze of his inner world. His narratives become Ariadne’s thread that guides his readers to the world that seems so unfamiliar yet oddly universal.
Gurnah seems to be the kind of writer I sincerely respect and dare to emulate who have lived among ordinary people like a sun in evening declination with the soft but radiant scarlet hues covering the earth, reflecting its magnificent face in shining waters. I am delighted to confirm that you don’t have to be born into a culture that speaks English if you want to become a good English writer. It is not about the Perfect mastery of language but about articulating thoughts to become a great writer. Although the media emphasizes Gurnah’s being the second black African author to have won the award since Nigerian Wole Soyinka in 1986, I don’t think it’s about his race that draws attention to his books. His being a writer supersedes his race because writers are different kinds of the race with a unique eye to look at the world and show it to readers, standing together in the collegiality of human spirits.