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A Call for Kindness

When eighteen-year-old Abdulrazak Gurnah arrived in London in the late 1960s, he certainly didn’t imagine that one day, more than fifty years later, in 2021, he would be awarded the Nobel prize in literature. Coming from Zanzibar, Tanzania, he was one of the many Commonwealth citizens who were leaving their native countries to start a new life in that cosmopolitan city which had been the capital of the biggest colonial empire in modern history.

It was this experience of being a stranger in a place where nobody knew anything about him that prompted young Abdulrazak to become a writer. He had to learn how to deal with what he had left behind and with what he had become. Writing was, for him, a way of “disentangling” his thoughts, of coming to terms with a condition of dislocation which led him to a sense of loss and inner division. It was also a way of showing that the world’s history, in its mainstream version, is something you can disagree with. And, if you challenge the official truth of colonialism, you want to tell your own truth, based on stories and cultures which are often ignored by History. After all, colonialism was for Gurnah “lack of kindness”.

Experience, like reality, is complex, multi-faceted, and needs to be analysed from different points of view in order to give a complete picture. This is just what Gurnah wants to offer his readers: he doesn’t want to teach them anything but simply to increase their understanding of the world’s complexity. When he writes, he doesn’t have a specific reader in mind but a “multitude” of readers, a variety of individuals. His aim is to “please” them, not in the sense of flattering them, but in the sense of giving them pleasure.

And pleasure he certainly gave to the varied audience he met at Unisalento on October 6th and 9th. Amongst students, teachers, professors, civil and academic authorities, sat a small group of Berkeley members, deeply impressed by this unassuming man who has received the greatest award a writer can earn without losing his humanity. Many thanks to Professor Dolce and Professor Katan for giving the Berkeley this unique opportunity!

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