Magazine article New Internationalist

By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Magazine article New Internationalist

By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Article excerpt

Abdulrazak Gurnah's sixth novel tells the interwoven stories of two men and their families. Set in two seaside towns half-a-world apart, the book opens as Saleh Omar arrives in Britain on a dank November day to claim asylum. He has with him a mahogany box containing incense and a passport that claims his name is Rajab Shaaban. Although he understands every word said to him, he pretends to be unable to speak English and the immigration officials call upon Latif Mahmud, an expatriate academic, to translate.

Mahmud's links with Omar are much closer than a shared exile from their homeland, the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar. As Omar's application for refugee status is processed, the men tell their stories and the plot becomes a complex maze, winding back upon itself in an intricate pattern of trickery and betrayal, lies, debts and revenge. …

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