It came as a surprise last December when Abdulrazak Gurnah, the Zanzibar native who has been in England for most of the last fifty years, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He himself did not take the call seriously until he saw his name flash across the committee’s website. Tellingly, most of his novels were then out of print, both in the United States and in England, where they nevertheless enjoy what his agent calls a “small circle of keen readers.” “I could do with more readers,” Gurnah said upon winning.

Naturally the ensuing coverage of the prize dwelled on the author’s African origins. Gurnah is only the second black African to win the prize, after Wole Soyinka in 1986.

Gurnah recently retired from his position as professor of literature, with a specialty in postcolonial works, at the University of Kent, in Canterbury. He...


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