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Category Archive for 'Zanzibar'

The most detailed and complex novel that author Abdulrazak Gurnah (from Zanzibar) has written on the subjects of immigration and displacement so far, The Last Gift is a multigenerational novel which opens with Abbas, a sixty-three-year-old man whose origins are, at first, unknown, returning to his residence in England after work. A conscientious, driven man, he is also very private, keeping to himself and not sharing his past even with his family. He becomes ill on the way home one extremely cold day, so ill that this proud man “wishes for someone to pick him up and carry him home.” Collapsing, he is taken to the hospital, where, worried, in pain, and thinking he might die, he realizes “that he had left things for too long, as he had known for so many years. There was so much he should have said, but he had allowed the silence to set until it became immovable.” As Abbas tries to gain the courage to reveal his thirty-year-old secrets to his family, the points of view shift among Abbas, his wife Maryam, his daughter Hanna, and his son Jamal, all of whom are trying to discover who they are in the British culture which they find themselves and into which they do not seem to fit. Gurnah stresses the themes of alienation, displacement, escape, guilt, hope, and eventually resolution among the family.

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Illustrating, to some extent, the effects of colonialism, along with desertions and displacements in the characters’ lives in this three-part novel covering more than fifty years in Zanzibar/Tanzania, Gurnah concentrates primarily on stories of family, courtship, and relationships–ordinary people living their daily lives. Though the novel feels like three separate novellas, rather than a continuous whole, Gurnah’s style is smooth and descriptive, conjuring the moods and images of different times and fascinating places.

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The book begins as a leisurely portrait of two lonely immigrants to England from Zanzibar, one of them a distinguished young professor and the other a 65-year-old asylum seeker who has just arrived, pretending he understands no English. As the points of view shift back and forth between the two men in succeeding sections of the novel, we come to know each man well–his life, his aspirations in Zanzibar, his extended family, the family’s business connections there, and ultimately, the how and why of each man’s emigration to England. Coming from two different generations, each man has a different view of his former country, the older man having spent most of his life there, escaping to England when all other hope is gone, and the younger having left as a young student, but still longing for the connections he left behind. This is passionate book of clear vision, a book which recognizes harsh truths and still remains compassionate.

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