Through Their Eyes

Theo Tait

  • Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah
    Bloomsbury, 262 pp, £16.99, May 2005, ISBN 0 7475 7756 0

Abdulrazak Gurnah left Zanzibar a few years after the violent revolution of 1964, when the constitutional sultanate installed by the departing British was overthrown. It was a time, in Gurnah’s words, of ‘state terror and calculated humiliations’: as many as 17,000 people were killed, the Omani-descended ruling elite was expelled, and thousands were imprisoned; the Revolutionary Council nationalised the clove plantations and trading companies, bringing the economy to a standstill. The Britain that Gurnah arrived in as an 18-year-old student was hardly hospitable, though: it was 1969, just after Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech, and just before the arrival of the Ugandan Asians triggered widespread panic about immigration. But he had broken Zanzibar’s laws to leave, and there was no going back. Since then, he has worked as an academic in Britain and Nigeria.

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