Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah
A Novel

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Writing at the peak of his powers, Abdulrazak Gurnah gives us in Desertion a spellbinding novel of forbidden love and cultural upheaval, with consequences powerfully reverberating through three generations and across continents—from the heyday of the British empire to the aftermath of African independence.

Early one morning in 1899, in a small, dilapidated town along the coast of Mombassa, a Muslim man, Hassanali, sets out for a mosque but doesn’t get there. Out of the desert stumbles an Englishman who collapses at Hassanali’s feet: Martin Pearce—writer, traveler, something of an Orientalist. Hassanali cares for Pearce until
the Englishman is taken to the home of colonial officer Frederick Turner to recuperate. When Pearce returns to thank his Good Samaritan, he meets and is enraptured by Rehana, Hassanali’s sister—by her gorgeous eyes and tragic aura. And so begins the passionate, illicit love affair—two lives and cultures colliding—that informs the rich, finely woven tapestry of Desertion.

Gurnah, who has been short-listed for the Booker Prize, deftly and dramatically evokes the personal and political scandals of empire, the weight of tradition—of religion and culture—in everyday lives, the role of women in Muslim society, the vicissitudes of love, the complexities of filial relationships, the inexorability of miscegenation, and the power of fiction to charm and to harm. Desertion is a highly achieved, riveting work of imagination, brimming with controlled figural inventiveness, psychological acuity, and moral complexity.

About Abdulrazak Gurnah

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Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in Zanzibar in 1948 and teaches at the University of Kent. He is the author of six novels, including Paradise, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award, and By the Sea, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist.
Published January 1, 2005 by Pantheon Books. 272 pages
Genres: History, Romance, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Desertion

Kirkus Reviews

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What happens next is withheld, pending lengthy chunks of historical and ethnographic background information—and the story leaps ahead to the early 1950s, as Gurnah (By the Sea, 2001, etc.) traces the fortunes of three siblings (in what was then Zanzibar): underachieving, virginal Farida and her b...

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The Guardian

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Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah Bloomsbury £16.99, pp265 The baleful title word of Abdulrazak Gurnah's seventh novel, Desertion, presides over the book from a strange distance, never quite attaching itself to the characters or their doings.

May 15 2005 | Read Full Review of Desertion: A Novel

The Guardian

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Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah 272pp, Bloomsbury, £17.99 Desertion and abandonment are the themes that run through this novel, and which link its stories of tragic love with the history and politics of the east African coast.

May 21 2005 | Read Full Review of Desertion: A Novel

Publishers Weekly

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The narrative then leaps forward to the late 1950s (just before Zanzibar's independence from colonial rule) to follow the lives of two brothers: Rashid, who will go to London on scholarship, and Amin, who embarks on a passionate, forbidden affair with Jamila, the sophisticated, divorced granddaug...

Jun 06 2005 | Read Full Review of Desertion: A Novel

London Review of Books

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