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Gravel Heart by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Gravel Heart

by Abdulrazak Gurnah

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271562,476 (2.5)5



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I received a free advance copy of this novel through Netgalley in return for an honest review.

There were so many aspects of this novel that appealed to me. It is set partially in Zanzibar, a country I don't think I have ever encountered in literature and deals with a young man's move to Britain, the original coloniser of his home country. I expected an exploration of the immigrant experience and the legacy of colonialism and while these themes were present they were dealt with in a way that left me surprisingly unmoved.

Much of this can be attributed to the strangely reserved writing in which so many interactions and events are simply reported by the narrator that it left me feeling very little connection to the story. Even Salim himself came into focus only occasionally through the letters he wrote and rewrote to his parents in Zanzibar and Kuala Lumpur but these were brief glimpses between long narrative passages in which his personality again retreated into obscurity. Aside from Salim all of the other players appeared more as set decoration with very little to distinguish them. Rarely speaking directly and little described they felt tangential to the story and often to Salim's life.

A sense of place is also strangely absent. Physical descriptions of Zanzibar and London are as fleeting and colourless as the descriptions of the characters. That is until towards the end when there is a plunge into the history and crimes of colonialism. This is so sudden and so weighty it is something of a shock since apart from short asides and brief glimpses I found this issue largely and regrettably unexplored in the rest of the novel.

Perhaps all of this was deliberate and intended to express Salim's isolation, his restlessness and rootlessness but it robbed the story of impact and made it rather unmemorable ( )
  moray_reads | Mar 20, 2018 |
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The beginning of love is the recollection of blessings: then it proceeds according to the capacity of the recipient, that is, according to his deserts.’

Abu Said Ahmad ibn Isa-al-Kharraz,
Kitab al-Sidq (The Book of Truthfulness) (899),
trans. Arthur J. Arberry (1937)
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My father did not want me.
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Moving from revolutionary Zanzibar in the 1960s to restless London in the 1990s, Gravel Heart is a powerful story of exile, migration and betrayal, from the Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Paradise. Salim has always believed that his father does not want him. Living with his parents and his adored Uncle Amir in a house full of secrets, he is a bookish child, a dreamer haunted by night terrors. It is the 1970s and Zanzibar is changing. Tourists arrive, the island's white sands obscuring the memory of recent conflict: longed-for independence from British colonialism swiftly followed by bloody revolution. When his father moves out, retreating into dishevelled introspection, Salim is confused and ashamed. His mother explains neither this nor her absences with a strange man; silence is layered on silence.… (more)

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