cover image The Last Gift

The Last Gift

Abdulrazak Gurnah. Bloomsbury, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-62040-328-0

Gurnah’s latest (after Paradise) follows an East African immigrant living in a small English town as he and his family reckon with his past, which has long been shrouded in mystery. After suffering a debilitating stroke at age 63, Abbas suddenly wants to speak for the first time about the youthful decisions that drove him to leave his native Zanzibar, become a sailor, and eventually marry and settle down in England. As his wife, Maryam, and their children, Hanna and Jamal, care for the ailing Abbas, they too find themselves confronting their memories. Maryam, for her part, recalls her childhood as a foundling without parents or ancestry, which drove her to cling to Abbas and compromise her dreams. In the meantime, the rebellious Hanna and her English lover, Nick, encounter his family’s condescension and bigotry, while the contemplative grad student Jamal finds love and discovers his vocation as a writer. Over the course of this haunting novel, the dying Abbas prepares a last gift of memory for his wife and children. Though the pacing is slow at times, Gurnah manages to match a strong plot with powerful musings on mortality, the weight of memory, and the struggle to establish a postcolonial identity. Agent: Deborah Rogers, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Feb.)