Winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Afterlives is a sweeping, multi-generational saga of displacement, loss, and love, set against the brutal colonization of east Africa. Following the story of Ilyas, a boy stolen by German colonial troops, Afterlives is a novel that “gathers close all those who were meant to be forgotten, and refuses their erasure.
Q&A with author Sonora Jha.
The Tanzanian-born British author’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, Afterlives, chronicles Ilyas’ story as he returns years later to fractured remnants of a past life. After years away fighting against his own people, he comes home to find his parents gone and his sister, Afiya, in de facto slavery. Hamza, too, returns home from the war, scarred in body and soul and with nothing but the clothes on his back—until he meets the beautiful, undaunted Afiya. As these interlinked friends and survivors come and go, live and work and fall in love, the shadow of a new war lengthens and darkens, ready to snatch them up and carry them away.
Abdulrazak Gurnah is an accomplished writer and professor. Born in Zanzibar in 1948, he left the country to study in England in 1968, first at the University of London and then at the University of Kent, where he obtained his PhD. After teaching in England and then lecturing in Nigeria, he returned to the University of Kent where he is now Professor of English and Post-Colonial Studies. His novels have dealt both with the immigrant experience as well as life in east Africa. He lives in Canterbury.
He is the author of ten novels: Memory of Departure, Pilgrims Way, Dottie, Paradise (shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award), Admiring Silence, By the Sea (longlisted for the Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Award), Desertion (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize), The Last Gift, Gravel Heart, and Afterlives, which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Fiction 2021 and longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize.
Sonora Jha, our Q&A moderator for the evening, is an essayist, novelist, and professor of journalism at Seattle University. She is the author of the memoir How to Raise a Feminist Son: Motherhood, Masculinity, and the Making of My Family (Sasquatch Books USA and Penguin Random House India, 2021) and the novel Foreign (Random House India 2013). Her op-eds and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Seattle Times, The Establishment, DAME, and in several anthologies. Her new novel, The Laughter, is forthcoming from Harper Via in early 2023.
Jha grew up in Mumbai and has been chief of metropolitan bureau for the Times of India and contributing editor for East magazine in Singapore. She teaches fiction and essay writing for Hugo House, Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat, and Seattle Public Library. She is an alumna and board member of Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat and has served on the jury for awards for Artist Trust, Hedgebrook, and Hugo House. Learn more.