Nobel Laureate Gurnah’s Tales of Exile and Migration Set to Launch in China within 2nd Half 2022

By Bruce Humes

Recent press reports in the English-speaking world note that the new Nobel Laureate for Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah, is relatively unknown in his native Zanzibar and Africa in general, but none of his novels have ever appeared in Chinese. 

This looks set to change. “We aim to publish five of Gurnah’s full-length novels within the second half of 2022,” says Feng Tao, head editor at Shanghai Translation Publishing House (上海译文出版社).

It recently acquired the rights to publish translations — in the PRC’s simplified Chinese script — of his novels that appeared in English between 1987 and 2020. They are: Memory of Departure, Pilgrims Way, Dottie, Paradise, Admiring Silence, By the Sea, Desertion, The Last Gift, Gravel Heart, and Afterlives.

Why purchase rights to all ten novels? “Especially in the last decade, we have gradually evolved from publishing one or two masterpieces of important writers to marketing their writing as a whole,” explains Feng. “Classic and important contemporary authors are presented in the form of anthologies or series of works.”

Feng freely admits that the attraction of the Nobel “brand” among China’s readers was an important consideration, and Shanghai Translation also snapped up rights to fiction by Britain’s Kazuo Ishiguro, the 2017 Nobel Laureate.

Years ago it also introduced Naguib Mahfouz to mainland readers, but Feng described sales of the master storyteller, whose novels are all set in Egypt, as “rather mediocre.” Gurnah’s tales may be better received. “Colonialism, post-colonialism, and the conflict and integration of different races and cultures are among the most internationally relevant themes of our time,” he says confidently.

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