Becoming foreign: Tropes of migrant identity in three novels by Abdulrazak Gurnah

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© Jonathan P. A. Sell 2012 and contributors 2012. Abdulrazak Gurnah’s three most recent novels, Admiring Silence(1996), By the Sea(2001a) and Desertion(2005)1are all woven with a common thread, namely the alienation and loneliness that emigration can produce and the soul-searching questions it gives rise to about fragmented identities and the very meaning of ‘home’. Although in our postcolonial times these issues seem to have been exhausted beyond reasonable limits, I believe that Gurnah’s novels still have something new to say about the migrant and, perhaps more importantly, on behalf ofthe migrant. It may be because Gurnah himself is an example of the more successful African migrants in the Western world, or simply because he is a very gifted creative writer, that his work draws attention to those cases that affluent societies would prefer to ignore: the hundreds, maybe thousands, of failed migrants struggling to survive in hostile or simply indifferent environments. Gurnah’s work delves into the experiences of less fortunate migrants, of those who have migrated for economic, political or emotional reasons but who fail to live up to the expectations they-and their families-had imagined for themselves. All his main characters-the nameless narrator in Admiring Silence, Saleh Omar and Latif Mahmud in By the Sea, and Rashid in Desertion-are portrayed as displaced individuals, simultaneously alienated from the host community andthe homeland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMetaphor and Diaspora in Contemporary Writing
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


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