The Swedish Academy said the award recognised his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”.
“I don’t see that these divisions are either permanent or insurmountable or anything like that,” Gurnah said in an interview shortly after the prize was announced.
Gurnah’s 10 novels include “Paradise” “Afterlives” and “Desertion”. Paradise (1994) was shortlisted for both the Booker and the Whitbread Prize, By the Sea (2001) was longlisted for the Booker and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.
Gurnah writes in English, lives in Britain and teaches literature at the University of Kent. He was born in 1948 in Zanzibar and came to Britain as a student in 1968.
The Nobel prize is awarded by the Swedish Academy and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.14 million). But more than that is the prestige and attention and the surge in book sales as the winning authors get exposed to readers in countries who are not familiar with their works.
Past winners have primarily been novelists such as Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison, poets such as Pablo Neruda, Joseph Brodsky and Rabindranath Tagore, or playwrights such as Harold Pinter and Eugene O’Neill.
Though the Academy has crowned mostly Europeans or North Americans over the past 120 years, it was in the air this time that the prize could go to a writer from Africa or Asia.