Memory of Departure

Abdulrazak Gurnah, Author Grove/Atlantic $15.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1018-3
This haunting coming-of-age novel evokes in spare but vivid prose the exotic sights, sounds and landscapes of coastal East Africa and the spiritual rebirth of a sensitive 15-year-old. Living with his family in a poverty-stricken seaport village, the hero, Hassan Omar, is surrounded by a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and despair. His own sense of hopelessness is nurtured by the stunted lives around him: his drunken, tyrannical, libertine father; a sister, who escapes the blind-alley of their lives into headlong promiscuity; a dissolute older brother, who succumbs to the squalor and eventually dies in a freakish accident; and finally, his mother, who has fatalistically resigned herself to being brutalized by her husband. Eventually, Hassan leaves his family to stay with an uncle in Nairobi, and there he discovers a larger world, which contains its share of cruelty as well but also hope and redemptiona way out of his old life and his immobilizing self-hatred. Hassan's rite of passage eventually comes to stand for something larger, although Gurnah, who was born in Tanzania and now teaches in an English university, merely suggests this message: the hero's aspirations and dilemmas reflect the struggles of Third World Africa to shed its colonial skin, with its tradition of poverty and oppression, and to construct a new identity for itself. This is a short book, but dense, often hair-raising in its dramatic scenes of degradation and compelling in its rendering of Hassan's evolving consciousness. (March)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1988
Release date: 03/01/1988
Hardcover - 159 pages - 978-0-224-02432-7
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