As Covid-19 restrictions are lightened, I’m getting out and about more. But I still have time to read. I’m halfway through my goal of 75 for this year, a fitting place to be in June. Here’s the most recent.
Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Postcolonial” is not quite the right category; it is written by a postcolonial writer but its setting is colonization time. If I were keeping up my “Around the World” list, this would be my first book about Tanzania/Zanzibar. It is the first of Gurnah’s books I’ve read since hearing of his Nobel prize in literature, the first African writer since Wole Soyinka, (Toni Morrison, the African American winner coming between). This is one of three listed as his better novels, and it lives up being excellent. Since I have yet to read the others, I cannot yet corroborate the comparative claim.
The plot starts out episodically as Yosuf goes with his “Uncle” in payment for a debt of his father, works in his shop, then accompanies him on a trade expedition. Through all this are hints of upcomng doom, personal and at the hands of the German colonists. Then the plot tightens into conflict and resolution in the latter portion. The pacing is handled adroitly, and bits of personal history and German occupation gradually emerge.
The harshness of the setting is palpable in the description. Allusions to the story of Joseph in the Koran (and also in the Hebrew Scriptures, though Koran is relevant to the Muslim culture of many of the characters) are cleverly woven in–it might have taken me longer to notice them had they not been remarked in a blurb on the cover, but at some point I would have. There are cultural references that I am sure would be richer to someone in the know. That layer will have to wait till I have done more reading.
The characters were likeable, though for me that is not an essential so long as they are well developed. It was easy to identify with Yosuf and his dreams and quandries; Kahlil, though seeming unfriendly at first becomes more sympathetic as we learn more about his background. The same can be said of other characters who have overseer positions. The “uncle,” though pompous, has some redeeming features as well.
I look forward to reading more of Gurnah’s work. I’ll be waiting a long time for By the Sea since I started as the number 157 hold request on one copy–let’s hope the library purchases more. It was listed as another of the three best.
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