Paradise is a historical novel by the Nobel Prize-winning Zanzibar-born British writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, First published in 1994 by Hamish Hamilton in London. The novel was nominated for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize for Fiction.
The book follows the story of Yusuf, a boy born in the fictional town of Kawa in Tanzania at the return of the 20th century. Yusuf’s father is a hotelier and is in debt to a rich and powerful Arab merchant named Aziz. Early in the story Yusuf is pawned in exchange for his father’s owed debt to Aziz and must work as an unpaid servant for the merchant. Yusuf joins Aziz’s caravan as they travel into the interior to the lands west of Lake Tanganyika. Here, Aziz’s caravan of traders meets hostility from local tribes, wild animals, and difficult terrain. As the caravan returns to East Africa, World War I begin and Yusuf encounters the German Army as they sweep Tanzania, forcibly conscripting African men as soldiers.
Good reads Reviews
From Paul “A curious and surprising novel, which I think can be easily misunderstood if the reviews are anything to go by.
It concerns Yusuf, a boy who is taken by his uncle from his parents to pay a debt. He works in his uncle’s shop with Khalil an older boy in a similar situation. As Yusuf grows it is clear that he is very attractive to women and men. Uncle Aziz takes him on one of his trading expeditions through what is now Tanzania and we encounter the jungle, strange and wonderful people; Yusuf stays with a trading partner of Aziz for a time, where his growing attractiveness continues to be a problem. He then goes on a journey with Aziz and his trading caravan and has further adventures. They return to the uncle’s home after some time and Yusuf’s beauty continues to be a problem.
There is a, on the surface, puzzling end. Yusuf is a narrator who is a little apart and things happen to him in an oddly detached way. The European are very much a background threat until the end; an ominous absence.
There was a richness and depth to the story and there are parallels to another story. Even with my limited knowledge of the Koran, there were obvious similarities with the story of the Prophet. However, this is all about corruption; the worm in the bud, the rotting fruit. Yusuf seems so innocent and acted upon, but there is something at his core that he seems that no one around him does. The end is completely baffling if you do not see it.
From Lark benobi “I have yet settled down into what I think of this novel, why I love it. The storytelling style required a lot of patience. It’s a tell-not-show style. I needed to acclimate myself to it. As a style, it’s very rich but it requires me to activate some reading muscles that I have not used since reading, oh, maybe some set Maugham. It’s descriptively lush.
From Toria “Been meaning to read something by Abdulrazak Gurnah since he one Nobel Prize, and I finally got around to it. While this is my first novel of his I can definitely see why he one that price”.
From John Hatley “In this astonishing novel, Abdulrazak Gurnah tells the story of a 12-year-old given away by his father to settle a debt. It takes place in East Africa, which is about to be colonized by European powers. Against the background of the boy’s coming of age, we get a glimpse of a region in which cataclysmic collisions occur: the collision of very different tribal traditions and superstitions, the collision of different religions and cultures, and the collisions of two different European powers, vying for control of a continent that does not belong to them. In spite of the brutality involved in the historical background, Gurnah manages to tell a fascinating story at a very personal level, without a brutal language, from the perspective of the main character, Yusuf. It is an amazing achievement and a very enjoyable read”.