Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Desertion

My review of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Desertion appears in the September 26 issue of The Nation. I have talked about the novel several times on Moorishgirl, but this (longer) piece was an opportunity to critically examine it and put it in context with other works by Gurnah. The review is available to subscribers only online. Here’s a snippet:

The desertion of the title should, by now, be fairly straightforward. White men desert their native lovers, Muslim men desert liberated partners, and young, educated men desert Zanzibar for the comforts of Britain. But there is another kind of desertion that haunts the novel: the British colonial experience. Indeed, Gurnah seems to suggest that Britain “deserted” its colonies, like the islands of Zanzibar, before the time was right. In a postcolonial novel this might seem like a startling assertion, but it is not new to Gurnah. One of the main characters in By the Sea remarks that he married in 1963, “a year before the British departed in a huff and left us to the chaos and violence that attended the end of their empire.” Gurnah appears to fault the British for not living up to their responsibilities, for disrupting a social order without being asked and then leaving the resulting problems for others to solve. One could even argue that the disjointed narrative in Desertion is deliberate, that it is Gurnah’s way of reflecting a world in which relationships between people, between countries, are interrupted before they have run their course. Seen in this light, the novel has a staying power that belies its quietness.

The issue hits newsstands next week.

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