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3.61  ·  Rating details ·  207 ratings  ·  33 reviews
In 1899, an Englishman named Martin Pearce stumbles out of the desert into an East African coastal town and is rescued by Hassanali, a shopkeeper whose beautiful sister Rehana nurses Pearce back to health. Pearce and Rehana begin a passionate illicit love affair, which resonates fifty years later when the narrator’s brother falls madly in love with Rehana’s granddaughter. ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published July 11th 2006 by Anchor (first published July 26th 2005)
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I'm very glad to have been introduced to this author's work. Will definitely be reading more.
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reading_africa
I'm not a fan. Not sure if it is the authors own story, if so it makes a little more sense, kind of...

I found it deliberately not helping the reader: Locations are not divulged until long into the stories, neither is the time period. The narrator shows up at the end of part one, but is suddenly no longer all-knowing, but a narrator full of maybes and unclear suggestions of how things might have happened, possibly. He turns out to be the narrator of most of the rest of the book.
But my biggest pro
Aug 21, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
Still not sure if I like it or not - it took me half the book to get into the story and the second part was much more interesting and moving I thought. The issues raised reminded me of themes found in Leila Abulela's books...
Nov 23, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
An illuminating insight into forbidden love.

This was not an easy read. There was something about the style in which it was written, almost poetic in places, that made to mere 260 pages feel like a tome.
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 a
Mar 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
"There is, as you can see, an I in this story, but it is not a story about me. It is one about all of us, about Farida and Amin and our parents, and about Jamila. It is about how one story contains many and how they belong not to us but are part of the random currents of our time, and about how stories capture us and entangle us for all time," (Gurnah, page 120).

This book is so wonderful! It is like Milan Kundera, except set in Zanzibar. I couldn't put it down. I cried and cried. And also, afte
Beth Asmaa
May 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
The title can indicate the end of East African colonialism and the vicissitudes of love. Both euphoric experiences dissipate with the coming of political and social realities. The brief happiness of independence and romance sustain them across bland, desperate times. The saga covers three generations of Zanzibaris, English, and Mombasans. The author unravels the surprising relations at the end. Curiosity prompted my inquiry into the geography, clothing, and history of the area. Gurnah reveres li ...more
Sep 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: literate readers of non-US fiction
Recommended to Fran by: my sister Jeannette
Having read a fair amount of Indian fiction, and a little bit of Japanese fiction, I have turned to my first African fiction since "Cry the Beloved Country" in high school. It felt very autobographical--at least the more modern parts did. It did an interesting job of intertwining different stories through history, and was an enjoyable look at a place, time, and culture that I know little about.
Fred Kohn
Nov 30, 2013 rated it liked it
If you like plot driven books, you should definitely not read this one. Gurnah relies on apparently mundane conversations and incidences to weave together an intriguing tapestry that doesn't come together fully until the end, if then. I was only able to read this book in chunks of about 20 pages at a time because I found my mind drifting. But I am happy that I made the investment.
Moushine Zahr
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book is divided in 3 parts in which the author write detailed portraits of people, places, and life in Zanzibar in the end of the 19th century for the first part, in the 1950's for the second part and second half of 20th century in the last part. The author did a great job giving a full picture of various people living in Zanzibar in the end of 19th century: Hassanali the average local trader with mixed race, Rehana the local woman, Frederick the British colonial administrator and Pearce th ...more
Subhradeep Chatterjee
A tale of longing and despair, that spans across three generations. The book is divided into three parts and spans across continents- from Mombasa to hallowed institutions of England.

It begins by chronicling the lives of Hassanali, Mallika (his wife)and Rehana (his sister). Rehana has faced a number of failed marriages and through the times spent in desolation and despair, she has learnt to return a stare with an even harder and scornful one. So it comes to no surprise when she pursues her affai
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The two parts of this book leave very different impressions, however much message and in quiet talent they share. The story set in the early days of the colonial era in east Africa is beautifully evocative and rolls along like a classic tale up until the moment it is very unexpectedly cut off. As the (in part autobiographical?) narrator intrudes, the tone becomes more awkward and urgent, even if the author's hand is every bit as sure in his description of family and community dynamics, and his r ...more
Feb 25, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It bored me.
Feb 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I could not see initially how the first part, set in the colonial era, connected to second part set in a pre-Independence era. The story comes a full circle at the end.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group-read
Desertion is set in East Africa and Zanzibar , at the turn of the 19th century, and fifty years later, on the eve of independence. It is beautifully written and evokes the intensity of passionate youth, the heat and colour of the tropical city. The characters are sharply drawn, and entirely credible.
It is one of the few books I have read where I would like to have had more, and felt no need to rush to the denouement.

Its weakness is structural, it isn't really a novel but two novellas only loosel
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
It took me time to get hooked on the book and I started reading it with a deadline of a paper due shortly in mind, but what had started as a pain in the neck ended up as one of the most beautiful, touching and sad stories I have read.

I feel compelled to praise Abdulrazak Gurnah and his incredible writing. Most of the time, especially during the first chapters, you wonder what exactly the story is about, what the author is telling you. But then, when you head into the second part you start seein
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Desertion is a novel that weaves a tale tied together through generations. It starts in 1899 in Mombasa, Kenya with a local Muslim man coming across an Englishman in need of medical assistance. Their chance meeting eventually leads to a romance between the Muslim man's sister and the Englishman, which sets the stage for the fine threads that tie the remaining stories together and form the echoes of repercussions of the affair many decades later.

Gurnah is a wonderful, award-winning writer and his
Jun 02, 2016 rated it liked it
This was under the Tanzania suggested book for the Reading the World Challenge. This book is a character study of politics, colonialism, and social structures that confine us . It was interesting to read how different characters viewed a situation completely differently from one another . A quote from the book :".For by agreeing to be black and white, we also agree to limit the complexity of possibility, we agree to mendacities that for centuries served and will continue to serve crude hungers f ...more
Jun 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tanzania
A beautiful, lyrical book. In 1899, in Zanzibar, a European man stumbles out of the desert and is found and - briefly - nourished by a local man. (Briefly because he is quickly removed to the home of a fellow European - tho he would really have preferred to stay in the simple home where he was first brought. We follow Martin's relationship with a local woman, breaking all the accepted rules. We then find ourselves two generations later, with a different story of forbidden love. The intersection ...more
Carla Castanos
Has it happened to you that you get an idea of the plot from the blurb and then it turns out to be something else? I thought this book was going to be about culture clash and the undying love of Rehana and her Englishman. It was and it wasn’t. The books starts off with their love story and then drifts into complicated love stories consuming their descendants. It also talks about a rough period in Zanzibar’s history and how they came to join Tanzania. It was definitely an interesting read, with g ...more
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I like the author's story telling style which suddenly changed at second part making you wonder who the narrator of the story was. Then you see the connection between all the characters in the story. A fascinating novel set in Zanzibar on the late 1800s and then fast forwarded to the 1950s. Like I put down in my review of another book by Gurnah, I have always enjoyed reading stories in a historical and cultural setting other than the West and also other than my own. So that's my bias in giving f ...more
I first heard about Abdulrazak Gurnah and this novel a few weeks ago. I don't remember the exact context but the summary seemed to promise an interesting read so I decided to put "Desertion" on my to-read-list.
And I am glad that I did it. It's always exciting to "discover" new authors and learn about things which you formely didn't know much about but were interested in.
There were a few things I didn't like or which stayed a bit unclear so this book only gets four stars - rather 4.3 - but all
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
The first part of the book was very good and interesting - set in Mombasa it is a love story which accounts for the large mix of cultures during the early parts of British colonialism. A captivating love story! Forbidden too.

THEN, the middle of the book suddenly turns into a different, semi-related story that, while heart warming, took me ages to get through. I myself felt the first author deserted me! An okay book to pick up while on vacation (in Kenya, no less), but not good.
Annie Tucker
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was basically everything you would want out of a novel. Tragic, transporting, deeply romantic, and written in a way that captures the essential seed of character that determines the story of individual lives when planted within the earth of history and forced to come up against greater powers.
But don't read it unless you are willing to have your heart broken for a hundred different reasons.
Janet Levine
Feb 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Stunning evocation of a microcosm of life on the east African coast around the 1900s. Cleverly described love story between an English academic and beautiful Muslim woman. The second half is a tad too autobiographical and not as good as the first half. For the intrigue and web created by forbidden love compare to Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient". A good read with authentic detail of Africa and the influence of family ties on one's destiny.
A powerful look at the Colonial British Empire in 1899 through the eyes of the conquered as well as the conquerers. I would have given this book about Zanzibar 4 stars but the author jumped from 1899 to the 1950s in one page without enough connection until the very end of the book. Annoying, but well worth reading.
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
For a Muslim to have written this novel, I was fairly disappointed and upset. He victimizes adulterers blaming their "misery" on cultural ideologies. Every day Islamic ideals were treated as an escapade instead of a way of life. He's obviously influenced by nothing else other than western ideas of sexuality. BUT it was fairly well written.
Kaytie Lee
Aug 04, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all
Shelves: finishedreading
You might like DESERTION: A NOVEL if you

enjoy exotic places
prefer bittersweet love stories
have ever spoken Italian without knowing the language
think your life is so tough

You might not like DESERTION: A NOVEL if you

are xenophobic
dislike character-driven novels
think there are strict rules about who can love whom
are reading to escape

Jan 23, 2011 rated it liked it
I kept wanting this book to be better. It had, in effect, three different stories that didn't connect as well as they should have. The individual elements had moments of beauty and insight, but the cuts to the other storylines were done abruptly without enough to tie them together. I would have happily followed any one of the three, but separately they needed more.
Michael Shea
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another great read from Mr Gurnah, one of my favorite authors that writes about this part of the world. And writes so well about colonial and post colonial life in Africa. This one is a keeper...
Oct 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Very interesting account of life in Kenya in 1898 and 1950. Kind of difficult to take the blatant racism but I guess the book isn't hiding what actually happened. Interesting read.
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Great African Reads: Jan-June 2017 | Tanzania: Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah 45 118 Oct 01, 2017 02:23AM  
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Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in 1948 in Zanzibar and lives in England, where he teaches at the University of Kent. He is the author of seven novels, which include PARADISE, shortlisted for both the Booker and the Whitbread Prizes; BY THE SEA, longlisted for the Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and DESERTION, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize.
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