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Desertion Paperback – 1 May 2006
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An absorbing novel about abandonment and loss
Gurnah writes beautifully -- Daily Telegraph
As beautifully written and pleasurable as anything Ive read Gurnahs portrait is the work of a maestro -- Guardian
Impressive ... a careful and often heartfelt exploration of the way memory inevitably consoles and disappoints us -- Sunday Times
This novel movingly examines the absences eating away at the core of all of its characters -- Sunday Telegraph
From the Publisher
The breakthrough book from the highly acclaimed author of By the Sea. For fans of Ahdaf Soueifs The Map of Love and Amitav Ghoshs The Glass PalaceSee all Product description
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Part II, which takes place fifty years later in Zanzibar, focuses on a new set of characters--two brothers, Amin and Rashid, and their sister Farida. The story of Amin's love for Jamila, which soon unfolds, bears some resemblance to that of Pearce and Rehana--both loves involve cultural and religious taboos and raise questions about the ability of love to survive such difficulties.
Part III, which further develops the stories of Amin, Rashid, and Farida, takes place about fifteen years after that. Amin is still in Zanzibar, while Rashid is studying in England. The British have granted Zanzibar independence, but a revolution has taken place. The traumas of this period and its bloodshed, primarily in the 1970s, keep the brothers apart, and, because of censorship in Zanzibar, their communications are difficult and vague. "A Continuation," the five-page epilogue, eventually connects all the stories and resolves some unanswered questions.
Illustrating, to some extent, the effects of colonialism, along with desertions and displacements in the characters' lives, Gurnah concentrates primarily on stories of family, courtship, and relationships--ordinary people living their daily lives. His style is smooth and descriptive, conjuring the moods and images of different times and places, but structurally, the novel feels like three separate stories, rather than a continuous whole. The characters we meet in Part I (the most exciting part) are never mentioned again until the five-page epilogue, and that epilogue, which connects the various stories, depends on coincidence for its surprises and feels artificial. Individually, the stories, told primarily by Rashid, are intriging, but they feel more like three separate novellas than one unified novel. Mary Whipple
I chose to read the book because it is written by a Zanzibari author and I was visiting Zanzibar at the time. From this perspective I found I could relate more to the second half of the book, set in the 50's in the capital, Stone Town. Many of the buildings mentioned I had walked past or visited and this lifted the book for me.
The first half was set at the turn of the previous century and some of the historical detail was quite dense.
There are five main characters in Part I; the shop keeper Hassanali, his sister Rehana and his wife Malika are all natives of Zanzibar but with Indian descent. Martin Pearce, an English adventurer stumbles into their lives after being abandoned in the desert by his Somali guides and falls for Rehana. Frederick Turner, a representative of the British colonial rule, houses and befriends Martin. Apart from a lot of background description and rambling, not a lot happens.
The move to part II is jerky, without explanation, and involves a family in Zanzibar; mother, father, daughter Farida and two sons, Rashid and Amin. Amin falls for Jamila, an older woman with a chequered history. At the time we are not told that she is the grand-daughter of Martin and Rehana but I don't think it would hurt to mention that here as it makes the story more comprehensible and I would have prefered to have known how the characters were significant. This was a less historical section which gave a strong feel for the importance of shame and appearances in the Muslim community and I felt for the lovers in their trials.
Finally the parts are brought together and the background story revealed.
I had previously read By the Sea and found it hard going so the style was no surprise this time around. If you are travelling to Zanzibar, however, then I would highly recommend this book.
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