Abdulrazak Gurnah Admiring Silence

ISBN 13: 9780140233124

Admiring Silence

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9780140233124: Admiring Silence

As a successor to his Booker-nominated novel, Paradise, Abdulrazak Gurnah's fifth book, Admiring Silence, presents the despair of being torn from one's roots. Gurnah's unnamed narrator flees to England as a teenager to escape the violent political rule of his native island in Zanzibar. There he lives for nearly twenty years in suburban comfort with an Englishwoman and holds a respectable position teaching at a university. Despite his apparent success, as an immigrant he is caught in cultural limbo, always feeling marginal in British society. The tales he weaves for his English lover and her family of an idyllic past in Africa console him temporarily, but when sanctions are lifted the narrator chooses to leave the family he created in England and return to Zanzibar. What he finds there destroys the image of the childhood paradise he had preserved in his heart-now he can never return home.

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Review:

From the author of the novel Paradise and nonfiction works Essays on African Writing 1: A Re-Evaluation and Essays on African Writing 2: Contemporary Literature comes Admiring Silence, the tale of an African man hopelessly enmeshed in a trap of his own making. After fleeing Zanzibar for England, the nameless narrator fathers a child by an English woman and struggles to come to terms with the racism he must confront as well as his ambivalence toward becoming part of English society. The brittle and fragile existence he builds for himself comes crashing down during a visit to his native land after many years away. There he realizes that he is an outcast from both worlds. Admiring Silence is a bitter and often bitterly funny look at the struggle to belong in an alien world.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Gurnah (Paradise, 1994), born in Zanzibar, poignantly redefines the colonial experience as he details the ``disappointed love'' that an exile feels for both the colonial mother, England, and his now independent homeland. Suffering from heart disease and homesickness, the 40-year-old unnamed narrator decides to make his first return to the island of Zanzibar since fleeing it as a teenager when its new rulers, after obtaining independence from Britain, began a reign of terror. As a member of the Arab community made up of the descendants of merchants and slave traders who settled there centuries before, he had felt especially vulnerable. Once in England, he completed high school, went to college, became a teacher. He also met Emma Willoughby, brilliant, white, and determined to shock her pleasant, conventional parents. The narrator fell in love with her and wooed her with fictional tales of his past. He did the same with Emma's father, though in this case, rather than evoking the idyllic family existence in an African setting enjoyed by Emma, he tells stories that reflect the old Empire's benevolence. Since Emma disapproved of marriage, the two lived together, had a daughter, Amelia, and for years he was happy, though he never wrote to his family in Zanzibar or visited them. And now the island, he finds on his return, has become a place where the toilets are blocked, the sewers broken, and the stores empty. The government is marginally more benign than the one it replaced in a coup, but the leaders are corrupt, cynical, and unable to govern. Home seems no longer home, and when his family, angered about his relationship with Emma, turns on him, he goes back, his fables confounded, to England, another place that is no longer home--for by now, Emma has found another man. A beautifully calibrated story of a wrenching search for a home for the heart and soul in an age of immigrants and exiles. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Abdulrazak Gurnah
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Abdulrazak Gurnah
Published by Penguin Books Ltd (1997)
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