Writing at the peak of his powers, Abdulrazak Gurnah gives us in Desertion a spellbinding novel of forbidden love and cultural upheaval, with consequences powerfully reverberating through three generations and across continents—from the heyday of the British empire to the aftermath of African independence.Early one morning in 1899, in a small, dilapidated town along the coast of Mombassa, a Muslim man, Hassanali, sets out for a mosque but doesn’t get there. Out of the desert stumbles an Englishman who collapses at Hassanali’s feet: Martin Pearce—writer, traveler, something of an Orientalist. Hassanali cares for Pearce until the Englishman is taken to the home of colonial officer Frederick Turner to recuperate. When Pearce returns to thank his Good Samaritan, he meets and is enraptured by Rehana, Hassanali’s sister—by her gorgeous eyes and tragic aura. And so begins the passionate, illicit love affair—two lives and cultures colliding—that informs the rich, finely woven tapestry of Desertion.Gurnah, who has been short-listed for the Booker Prize, deftly and dramatically evokes the personal and political scandals of empire, the weight of tradition—of religion and culture—in everyday lives, the role of women in Muslim society, the vicissitudes of love, the complexities of filial relationships, the inexorability of miscegenation, and the power of fiction to charm and to harm. Desertion is a highly achieved, riveting work of imagination, brimming with controlled figural inventiveness, psychological acuity, and moral complexity.
“An admirable achievement. . . . A serious inquiry into the nature of love, race and empire.” –San Francisco Chronicle“Affecting. . . . Gurnah perfectly renders the breathless exhilaration of first love and his characters–pulled from a time and place that seem to come from firsthand experience–seem true to life.”–The Christian Science Monitor“Gurnah writes beautifully: The brief affair between Amin and Jamila all but burns on the page.”–Los Angeles Times Book Review“Here is a writer at the top of his form, who commands a strong sense of narrative, a meticulous eye for family dynamics, and an understanding of the corrosive psychology of colonialism.” –The Seattle Times“Beautiful, elegial. . . . As seductive as the Zanzibar shore it describes.” —The Boston Globe