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by Stephen Crane
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From Publishers Weekly
Against the backdrop of colonial Africa, Booker-nominated Gurnah (By the Sea; Paradise) crafts a dense, decade-straddling story of cross-cultural love and its repercussions in his seventh novel, which begins in Zanzibar in 1899. After Somali guides abandon him in the desert, English orientalist Martin Pearce is rescued and cared for by Indian Muslims, Hassalani and his sister, Rehana, until a government official finds him. Martin is a sympathetic hero, somehow more enlightened than the European colonialists, for whom racism is endemic. When he returns to thank Hassalani for sheltering him, he falls for the beautiful Rehana, and they begin a transgressive affair. The narrative then leaps forward to the late 1950s (just before Zanzibar's independence from colonial rule) to follow the lives of two brothers: Rashid, who will go to London on scholarship, and Amin, who embarks on a passionate, forbidden affair with Jamila, the sophisticated, divorced granddaughter of Rehana and Martin. Though the shift in time between Part I and II diffuses this richly textured novel's momentum, the author's luminous prose makes it easy to forgive the disjointedness as he explores Africa's emergence from European rule and the continuing fallout from Rehana and Martin's near-unthinkable union. (July)
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From The New Yorker
At the heart of this novel, by a writer who has been nominated for the Booker Prize, is an Arabian-inspired tale of two pairs of lovers in the perilous ethnic and political landscapes of East Africa. In 1899, a young English Orientalist gets lost in the East African desert, is rescued by a Muslim shopkeeper in "a crumbling town on the edge of civilised life," and falls in love with the shopkeeper's sister, Rehana. This leads her to a "life of secrets and sin," and the pattern is repeated two generations later, in the forbidden attachment between Rehana's granddaughter and her lover. None of the lovers can overcome the crippling prohibitions against their love. But the affecting story of their failure allows Gurnah's self-consciously erudite narrator to bend their lives into a meditation on African history, estrangement, and loss.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
Desertion may be the deepest wound of all, whether it is that of a lover, family member, or countryman. In this seventh novel, Gurnah explores the joy, pain, and sorrow of connection, then desertion, through several generations. European colonialism is at its zenith when one fateful morning in 1899 the unexpected appearance of a ragged specter of an Englishman, Martin Pearce, appears out of the East African desert dawn and upsets the equilibrium of Hannsannali's simple household. The narrator shows each participant's point of view of the developments leading up to the ill-fated love affair between Pearce and his Muslim rescuer's sister, Rehana. Skipping forward in time to Zanzibar in the 1950s, readers encounter another pair of illicit lovers, Amin and Jamila, whose story is traced back through the generations to that original pair. Thrown into the mix is the voice of Rashid, Amin's brother, who leaves Africa as a young man for a university education and experiences the alienation of racism in England. Weaving a tapestry with threads of hope, misunderstanding, and regret upon a background of the struggles for African independence, racism, and cross-cultural intermarriage into a lyrical novel, Gurnah, masterful storyteller and observer of human frailty and nobility, once again provides a window into East African postcolonial culture and adds more luster to his literary credentials. Laurie Sundborg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“An admirable achievement. . . . A serious inquiry into the nature of love, race and empire.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Affecting. . . . Gurnah perfectly renders the breathless exhilaration of first love and his characters–pulled from a time and place that seem to come from firsthand experience–seem true to life.”–The Christian Science Monitor
“Gurnah writes beautifully: The brief affair between Amin and Jamila all but burns on the page.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Here is a writer at the top of his form, who commands a strong sense of narrative, a meticulous eye for family dynamics, and an understanding of the corrosive psychology of colonialism.” –The Seattle Times
“Beautiful, elegial. . . . As seductive as the Zanzibar shore it describes.” —The Boston Globe
In 1899, an Englishman named Martin Pearce stumbles out of the desert into an East African coastal town and is rescued by Hassanali, a shopkeeper whose beautiful sister Rehana nurses Pearce back to health. Pearce and Rehana begin a passionate illicit love affair, which resonates fifty years later when the narrator’s brother falls madly in love with Rehana’s granddaughter. In the story of two forbidden love affairs and their effects on the lovers’ families, Abdulrazak Gurnah brilliantly dramatizes the personal and political consequences of colonialism, the vicissitudes of love, and the power of fiction.
About the Author
Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in Zanzibar in 1948 and teaches at the University of Kent. He is the author of six novels, including Paradise, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award, and By the Sea, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
THERE WAS A STORY of his first sighting. In fact, there was more than one, but elements of the stories merged into one with time and telling. In all of them he appeared at dawn, like a figure out of myth. In one story, he was an upright shadow moving so slowly that in that peculiar underwater light his approach was almost imperceptible, inching forward like destiny. In another, he was not moving at all, not a tremor or a quiver, just looming there on the edge of the town, grey eyes glittering, waiting for someone to appear, for someone whose unavoidable luck it was to find him. Then, when someone did, he slid forward towards him, to fulfil outcomes no one had predicted. Someone else claimed to have heard him before he was seen, to have heard his beseeching, longing howl in the darkest hour of the night, like that of an animal out of legend. What was undisputed–although there was no real dispute between these stories as they all added to the strangeness of his appearance–was that it was Hassanali the shopseller who found him, or was found by him.
There is luck in all things, as there was in this first arrival, but luck is not the same as chance, and even the most unexpected events fulfil a design. That is, there were consequences in the future that made it seem less than accidental that it was Hassanali who found the man. At that time, Hassanali was always the first person about in the morning in this locality. He was up before dawn to open the doors and the windows of the mosque. Then he stood on the steps to call the people to prayer, pitching his voice to all corners of the clearing in front of him. Salla, salla. Sometimes the breeze carried similar calls from nearby mosques, other cryers chiding the people to wake. As-salatu khayra minannawm. Prayer is better than sleep. Hassanali probably imagined the sinners turning over irritably at being disturbed, and probably felt indignant and self-righteous satisfaction. When he finished calling, he swept the dust and the grit from the mosque steps with a feathery casuarina broom whose silent efficiency gave him deep pleasure.
This task of opening the mosque, cleaning the steps, making the call to prayer, was one he had appointed himself to for his own reasons. Someone had to do it, someone had to get up first, open the mosque and make the adhan for the dawn prayers, and someone always did, for his own reasons. When that person was ill or grew tired of the charge, there was always another person to take over. The man who preceded him was called Sharif Mdogo, and had come down with fever so badly in the kaskazi two years ago that he was still bedridden. It was a little surprising that Hassanali had volunteered himself to take over as the dawn cryer, though, not least to Hassanali himself. He was not zealous about the mosque, and it required zeal to rise at every dawn and bully people out of sleep. Sharif Mdogo was like that, the kind of man who liked to barge into complacency and give it a good shake. In addition, Hassanali was a worrying man by nature, or perhaps experience had made him that way, had made him anxious and cautious. These semi-nocturnal chores tortured his nerves and disturbed his nights, and he feared the darkness and the shadows and the scuttlings of the deserted lanes. But then these were also the reasons he offered himself for the task, as a submission and a penance. He started doing the duty two years before the dawn of this sighting, when his wife Malika first arrived. It was a plea that his marriage should prosper, and a prayer for his sister's grief to end.
The mosque was only a short stroll across the clearing from his shop, but when he started making the dawn call to prayer, he felt obliged to do as his predecessor Sharif Mdogo had done. He entered nearby lanes, more or less shouting into bedroom windows as he walked past, bellowing at the sleepers. He worked out a route which avoided the chasms and caves where the worst of the shadowy mischief lurked, but he was still prone to seeing spectral visions hurrying away into the darkest parts of the streets as he approached, fleeing the prayers and holy words he uttered as he exhorted the slumbering faithful. These visions were so real–a monster claw glimpsed at the turning of a lane, discontented spirits softly panting somewhere behind him, images of gross underground creatures which glowed and faded before he caught proper sight of them–that often he performed his tasks in a sweat despite the dawn chill. One morning, during another anxious, sweat-drenched round, when the dark lanes pressed in on him like the walls of a narrowing tunnel, he felt a rush of air on his arm as the shadow of a dark wing caught the corner of his eye. He ran, and after that decided to end the torment. He retreated to the mosque steps to make his call, a short walk across the clearing. He added the chore of sweeping the steps to make amends, even though the imam told him that calling from the steps was all that was required, and that Sharif Mdogo had been zealous in his duties.
Hassanali was crossing the clearing on this dawn when he saw a shadow across the open ground begin to move towards him. He blinked and swallowed in terror, nothing unpredictable. The world was teeming with the dead, and this grey time was their lair. His voice croaked, his holy words dried up, his body left him. The shadow approached him slowly, and in the fast-approaching dawn, Hassanali thought he could see its eyes glittering with a hard, stony light. This was a moment he had already lived in his imagination, and he knew that as soon as he turned his back, the ghoul would devour him. If he had been in the mosque he would have felt safe, because that is a sanctuary which no evil can enter, but he was still a long way from there and he had not yet opened the doors. In the end, overcome with panic, he shut his eyes, babbled repeated pleas for God's forgiveness, and allowed his knees to give way under him. He submitted himself to what was to come.
When he opened his eyes again, slowly, peering out as if he was lifting a sheet under which he had been hiding from a nightmare, it was to see the shadow slumped on the ground a few feet from him, half on its side and with one knee bent. Now in the brightening light he could see that it was not a spectre or a shadow or a ghoul, but an ashen-complexioned man whose grey eyes were open in exhaustion only feet away from his. 'Subhanallah, who are you? Are you human or spirit?' Hassanali asked, to be on the safe side. The man sighed and groaned all at once, and so announced himself as human without a doubt.
That was how he was when he arrived, exhausted, lost, his body worn out and his face and arms covered with cuts and bites. Hassanali, on his knees in the dust, felt for the man's breath, and when he felt it warm and strong on his palm, he smiled to himself as if he had managed something clever. The man's eyes were open, but when Hassanali waved his hand in front of them, they did not blink. Hassanali would have preferred that they did. He rose carefully, incredulous about the drama he was now part of, then stood for a moment above the bundle groaning at his feet before hurrying to call for help. By this time it was dawn. The exact moment of greatest felicity for the dawn prayer was swiftly passing–it was only very brief–and Hassanali had not performed the duties expected of him. He feared that the regular early morning worshippers would be annoyed with him when they woke up later and discovered that they had drowsed through the morning's blessing. Most of these worshippers were elderly men who needed to keep their accounts healthy and up-to-date in case of a sudden summons. But he should have remembered that they also no longer slept that well, fretted the whole night long and could not wait for the dawn and the call to prayer to release them. So even as Hassanali set off to seek help, worrying about having failed in his duty as the muadhin, some were stepping out of their houses to find out why there had not been a call that morning. Perhaps some even worried if Hassanali was well, or if something had passed him by in the night. There were witnesses, then, to the man's first appearance, people who gathered round his wide-eyed body and saw it slumped like a shadow in the open ground in front of the mosque.
Hassanali returned with two young men he had found huddled half-asleep against the café doors. They worked there and were waiting for it to open, clinging to the last moments of rest before the day's antics began, but they rushed to help when Hassanali shook them awake. Everyone liked to help in the old days. When they arrived at the scene, urgent behind Hassanali's increasingly self-important strides, it was to find three elderly men standing a few paces from the body, watching it with fastidious interest: Hamza, Ali Kipara and Jumaane. These were the stalwarts of the dawn prayers, who stood directly behind the imam in the congregation, and who were the coffee-seller's first customers every morning. They were men well past their best years, wise men who expected their lives' endeavours to be considered unblemished, and who kept their eyes open and on the world that passed them by. They did not usually stir for anybody but themselves, and thought their age allowed them to act in this way. So they were not really three elderly men because everyone knew who they were, but by the measure of their time and place they were old, and their infirmities were part of their dignity, and their unbending display was perhaps an attempt at fulfilling what was required of them. For whatever reason, they now stood there, feigning indifference and making casual remarks while the young men and Hassanali rushed about. Hassanali opened the mosque and the young men fetched the rope bed, the one used for washing the dead. Hassanali winced but did not say anything. The young men lifted the moan...
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