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Coming of Age in a Changing Africa
on 25 May 2005
'Paradise' is the coming of age story of Yusuf, a twelve-year old boy when the story opens in an East Africa on the brink of change with the Anglo-German conflict of the First World War looming. The young Yusuf is indentured to the rich trader Aziz, who Yusuf believes to be his uncle, in order to pay off his father's debts. As the story develops, Yusuf gets to experience being a part of the trading caravans that linked the diverse racial, ethnic and religious groups of the region during this bygone era. Against the background of a changing world, the maturing Yusuf must start to make some decisions on the direction of his own life....
'Paradise' contains a number of interesting characters: the good-natured banter between Sikh Harbans Singh (Kalasinga) and Muslim Hamid Suleiman is a real treat, as is the interaction between Yusuf and similarly indentured shopkeeper Khalil. Undoubtedly, the stand-out feature of 'Paradise' is Gurnah's beautiful poetic prose: every aspect of this novel was completely mesmerising from the first word to the last. 'Paradise' succeeds on many levels: as a coming of age story; commentary on slavery and colonialism; tale of travel and adventure in a past world; and story dealing with first-love and friendships. 'Paradise' was short-listed for the Booker back in '94 and richly deserves a continued wide readership. I hope to read more of Gurnah's work, and have bought Gurnah's critically acclaimed 'By the Sea' on the strength of my enchantment with 'Paradise'.