Abdulrazak Gurnah Paradise

Is Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Paradise a Must Read?

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah was published in 1995 and it’s about an East-African boy who travels to the heart of the continent alongside his ‘uncle’. Of course, Uncle Aziz is not really his uncle. Yusuf is sold by his father to this merchant as a way of repaying a debt to him. Uncle Aziz is quite nice to the boy, but this doesn’t change the fact that Yusuf is technically a slave in his house. The novel depicts the complexities of pre-colonial East Africa and it won the Nobel Prize in 2021. That is how I found out about it. But is Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Paradise a must read?

Guys, this was a really hard read. It took me more than two weeks to get through. It’s very raw, very cruel at times. The title is in stark contrast with everything that is happening in the story. If it wasn’t being deliberately ironic, its title would surely be Hell, and not Paradise. At times, it was super boring as well, I have to say. At one point Uncle Aziz tells Yusuf the story of a sultan and his children (about eighteen of them) and lists all of their names. All of them! It was one whole page of names that are not essential to the story. 

On the other hand, I do understand what Abdulrazak Gurnah’s aim with this novel was. Yusuf is somehow in the middle of different conflicting ideas that shaped the history of Africa. It is him, the young boy, that everybody tries to convince about the ideologies each of the other characters hold precious. Mohammed Abdalla, as well as Uncle Aziz are both Muslims, Kalasinga is an Indian who has a good understanding of how the European operates, while Simba Mwene represents traditional African values. Pretty much all of these men find Yusuf irresistibly beautiful and make passes at him one way or another. The most disgusting of them all is Abdalla who is a violent pedophile who most likely raped Yusuf’s only friend, Khalil. Yes, it’s brutal.

Anyways, Yusuf manages to dodge all the bullets, while his good looks get him out of trouble many times. Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Paradise is the story of Yusuf’s awakening, of his growing of age. The last couple of chapters are the most interesting (in my opinion) and the ending leaves the reader with much to think about.

What I really liked about it is the way these different religions and belief systems collide over Yusuf’s head (who is smart enough not to ever take sides). The brutality of the turn-of-the-century Africa is quite hard to read about, but fascinating nonetheless.

My Rating

Because it was a novel that I could barely get through, I can only give it a Three Fox rating. 🦊 🦊 🦊

However, I do see the literary merit in the novel, and all in all, I do think it is something that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime. So yes, Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Paradise is a must read for history and African literature enthusiasts.

Discussion Points

For me, it was really hard to figure out the historical context of the novel. I had to do some research on it to fully understand what was going on. Did you know about the troubled history of East Africa in the beginning of the 20th century, or was it something new to you as well?

What did you think about Khalil’s personality? Although we get a kind of explanation at the end of the novel, I am curious to hear what You thought about the way he always seems to try to please Uncle Aziz and his costumers.

Finally, what is your opinion about the ending? I think it was a very interesting way of closing the novel. What do you think about Yusuf’s final choice?

While Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Paradise is not an easy read, I do think it is worth reading. You can find it by clicking on one of the links below:

Amazon 🇬🇧

Amazon 🇺🇸


If you would like to read more of my book reviews, go to my Book Club page!

Thank you, and have a sunny day!

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