Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea: Unbelonging and the Trauma of Imprisonment

Mustapha Kharoua


Abdulrazak Gurnah’s novel By the Sea (2001) is a compelling narrative of the trauma of displacement in postcolonial Africa. Set mainly between Zanzibar and Britain, it brings into focus the trauma of imprisonment as a defining feature of dislocation and unbelonging in postcolonial African cultures. The work critiques the forces of separation bred by racism in nationalist discourse, forces that act as the legacies of colonialism that limits the freedom of the oppressed colonial Other. This article supplements Michael Rothberg’s notion of “traumatic realism” with Paul Gilroy’s concept of “camp mentality”. I argue that the novel‘s underlying purpose is to bear responsible witness to nationalist racism in Zanzibar and Britain as a holdover of the same ideological structures that made colonialism and slavery possible. As a bystander of the trauma of postcolonial displacement, the diasporic Zanzibari writer’s narrative seeks to break free from the discursive and literal restrictions of a world marked by the racial division of subjectivities into “units of camps”. 



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