Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 9, 2021

2021 Nobel Prize for Literature: Abdulrazak Gurnah

The winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature was a surprise to almost everybody…nobody was barracking for him on BookTwitter and judging by the media reporting, Abdulrazak Gurnah wasn’t on anybody’s radar.  The Swedish Academy’s choice of this Tanzanian-born, UK-based author for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism came right out of left field.  There isn’t a review of even one of his novels at Michael Orthofer’s The Complete Review which is the most comprehensive review site for world literature that I know of.


Enter an obscure Australian blogger who discovered Admiring Silence by chance at the library and then found three of his novels secondhand at Brotherhood Books!  Did I know he would one day be a Nobel Prize winning author?  No, but I did know that he was an outstanding author and I wanted to read more of his books.

Lucky me, because asked which of his novels he would recommend to start with, Gurnah replied that most of them are out of print.  So what I have on my TBR are treasures, and the ex-library copy of Dottie is a first edition!

Publishers are no doubt scrambling to reissue these and Gurnah’s other novels.  This is the complete list:

Unlike some of the other Swedish Academy’s more esoteric choices, Gurnah’s novels are accessible for the general reader.  If you’d like to check out a sample, Words without Borders has an excerpt from Desertion on their website.

Wikipedia has been busy overnight, you can find out more about Gurnah here.


  1. Oh! Now I want to read him as well.


    • Hopefully your library has something!


  2. I had a look at his books once I heard he’d won. He has some really interesting books. Good for him!!


    • It’s exciting, isn’t it, when a new author comes our way! It’s like when Ismail Kadare from Albania won the Man International Booker… no one I knew had ever heard of him and it took a while for his books to get translated and then I couldn’t get enough of them!


  3. Afterlives is about to come out in pb format & five of his older books will be made available in Australia by January (via Allen & Unwin and Bloomsbury Australia).


  4. Congratulations on having the only reviews of Gurnah’s work that I’ve come across! I’ll freely admit I hadn’t heard of him before this, all the stranger because he writes in English. I was at the office at the university when I read about his win amd you should have seen me shoot up the stairs to the Senate House Library to grab a book by him (they have 3-4 of his titles). As if I was afraid that huge queues would have been forming in front of the stacks and they’d run out! 🤣🤣


    • There must be some more reviews somewhere… with the nominations he’s had for the Booker &c. It’s just a matter of finding them, but at the moment if you google his name all you get is pages of results about the Nobel.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well done on being ahead of the rest, Lisa! :D


    • Actually… the one who was ahead of the rest was the librarian who chose the book for the collection and then displayed it on the shelves so that I could stumble on it.
      And a bouquet goes to the cover designer too, because the cover was enticing. Alas, back then I didn’t routinely credit the cover designer so I don’t know who it was.
      PS I checked at the library to see if I could borrow it to check the designer but alas, they no longer have the book. But they did have After Lives with only a couple of reserves, so I put my name down for that…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My library has Gravel Heart, so I put a hold on it – because it looks like somebody beat me to it very early on Oct 7, lol


    • Wow, some folks are very quick off the mark!


      • Same here in Toronto, where there are a few copies of a few of his books (in English, I mean, others in other languages) and dozens of holds on them, same day. I’m sure he’s thrilled to have, at last, such recognition and enthusiasm for rediscovering his work. Well done for having picked up some over the years and having hung onto them with your good intentions (still intact obvs)!


        • They will definitely get read, and not just because of the Nobel. However, the state of the TBR is such that it has burst its banks, and in order to manage the stacks a bit better, I’m trying to read the smaller stacks first to make space. I only have 8 left in the R stack, and 15 in the T stack, so that will give me two spaces when they’re gone. The G stack is actually *two* stacks totalling 34 books altogether, but I have put Gurnah at the top!


  7. This is what is called “surfing the zeitgeist”, Lisa 😊 (Which is a phrase Tim & I use all the time, tongue-in-cheek, when we do something unusual but believe we’re ahead of the pack.)

    I have put a library hold on Afterlives, which is the only book by him available at Freo library. But there’s two people ahead of me, so looks like I’ll have to be patient.


    • Ha ha, I’m as surprised as anyone about being ahead of the pack.
      But actually there must be heaps of people who knew about him, in order for the Academy to have found him.

      Liked by 1 person

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