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By the Sea

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  407 ratings  ·  42 reviews
On a late November afternoon Saleh Omar arrives at Gatwick Airport from Zanzibar, a far away island in the Indian Ocean. With him he has a small bag in which there lies his most precious possession - a mahogany box containing incense. He used to own a furniture shop, have a house and be a husband and father, but now he is an asylum seeker from paradise; silence his only pr ...more
Paperback, 245 pages
Published July 8th 2002 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published 2001)
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Barbara Hi Lindsay, I saw you asked a question on By the Sea, which I finished today. For me it's a bit special, as I know the author in person, so I had that…moreHi Lindsay, I saw you asked a question on By the Sea, which I finished today. For me it's a bit special, as I know the author in person, so I had that connection in the first place. I know his academic work, which is also on postcolonial issue, Eastern Africa and the sea communities along that coast. So those things drew me to the book initially. I was never "gripped", though I liked the ways in which the narrative alternates between two characters' stories, and how these stories bring up historical facts, personal stories of rivalry, travel and friendship, and contemporary issues (e.g. migration). I don't know if this answers your question, but please if you have any thoughts on this, do write back!(less)

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There were parts of this book that were like listening to a maestro story teller, then there were parts of great mundane detail. Overall, a book that needs every word read.
Saleh Omar is a 65 year old from Zanzibar. He arrives in England and seeks asylum. The book is narrated by him and Latif Mahmud, a younger man who's father played an integral role in Omar's life.
Early in the book Omar tells of his hatred Imperialism, he is bitter about the changes it made to his country and in the mess it left
I recently read The Granta Book of the African Short Story, where the editor mentioned the overlooked influence Russian writers have over African writers. The prose and structural style of this novel made lucid that comment. Gurnah has written seven novels and I'm ashamed to say this is my first time reading his full-length work, even though I've read "Cages" a few times (I look forward to reading Admiring Silence soon).

There is a lot of sensory motion in this quietly paced novel of memory and r
Gumble's Yard
Apr 19, 2018 rated it liked it
A book longlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize.

The author writes about two emigrants from his home country of Zanzibar, both, like him, ending up in the UK. The two are the recently arrived and much older Saleh Omar. and Latif Mahmud. The two turn out to be intimately connected via a long running dispute between their families. Much of the book is Saleh telling Latif the real story of this feud; style is unusual as the story is told like a story rather than as narrative.

We also hear directly from
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Told from several different perspectives, 'By the Sea' offers contradictory and inconsistent alternatives of the truth; the veracity of which cannot – intentionally – be determined. You are being both misled but also left at the mercy of the vagaries of memory.
The story told is a seemingly straightforward one: a man forced to flee home ends up living in exile by the sea. As you’re moved along the fairly brief narrative, though, a host of entangled and interwoven stories are revealed. It’s cleve
Dec 21, 2011 rated it liked it
This was a clever and engaging story. Well-written (beautifully poetic and evocative) and full of on-point psychological insights about two men who meet in England and who have pasts in Zanzibar that connect them. And as most books I enjoy, this one weaves in historical events. I look forward to reading more from this author.
I live in a small town by the sea, as I have all my life though for most of it it was by a warm green ocean a long way from here. Now I live the half-life of a stranger, glimpsing interiors through the television screen and guessing at the tireless alarms which afflict people I see in my strolls.
Sharadha Jayaraman
Apr 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: african-culture-firsttimers, lit-fic-aficionados, refugee-scene-fans
3.5-star Review:
By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Abdulrazak Gurnah attempts to narrate a poignant tale of two men, a generation apart, who reside in mid-40s Africa, named Saleh Omar and Latif Mahmud. They, each in their lifetime, have faced atrocities in the hands of their beloved ones and a crumbling government. They are united in England years later, where one seeks asylum while the other is a professor of Literature. In their meeting, Latif Mahmud confronts Saleh Omar about his objectionable be
Aug 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Another pearl, probably one of the most exquisites i found on my travel through african literature in English.
Oct 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Interesting book though a bit strange. I found it dry and soul-sucking- not the book itself, but the story that the main character tells about his life, and the reality he finds himself in at the end.

You meet him at the airport in the UK, an old man arrived from Zanzibar and claiming refugee status which he gets and is taken to live in a small English town by the sea. In the novel he flashes back to his life growing up in Zanzibar (by the sea) and to the events that led up to him having to run
Katherine Howell
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Started off thinking it was a bit hard to read and a bit dependent on my mood. Got better and better. Really damn good, in fact...
I enjoyed the storytelling, but from fellow readers' comments I know that this is not for everyone. Many aspects of this novel are very relevant today, especially the aspects of arriving in Europe as refugees, their motifs, and the treatment they receive.
Oct 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: migration, masters
Lovely story, tedious writing.
Aug 13, 2015 rated it liked it
It's strange to read a book by someone you know in person, and with whom you have a working relationship. The temptation to read one character or the other as "the author's alter-egos" is strong. This is a story of injustice, family betrayals and rivalries over what end up being petty things, but which become big in the grand scale of things. I enjoyed the brilliant ways in which the storytelling is interweaved in the narrative, how one character is always telling a story to another, and how the ...more
Anna Tan
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ma-reading-list
By the Sea is beautiful, a meandering story of remembrance that takes you from Zanzibar to London, through Malaya and Persia, a story of business, love, and revenge.

Wandering through Saleh Omar's memories and Latif Mahmud's accusations, Abdulrazak Gurnah reminds you again and again that what you perceive as a child may not always be true. Related tenuously by marriage, the two men's lives have been intertwined by a series of slights and betrayal, each branch of the family grasping for the prope
Nov 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a long time I have been coming to the conclusion that I know so little of the world - of the people and their stories and the events and experiences that underlie their lives. I think of myself as a bit of a storyteller and it has not been difficult, over the years, to invent themes and explanations, to fill holes, maybe even to create holes to fill. But as time goes on, I think that the truth is that I know very little about anything or anyone. And this novel reminds me of that. I was there ...more
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Gurnah skilfully sets up situations where we're quick to judge his characters harshly, only to find out that we know nothing about them. I found myself constantly switching allegiance. I liked the writing very much and would definitely read more by Gurnah. The only weakness, I felt, was that in the second half there's a lot of 'tell' which had the effect of distancing me from the characters. Overall, a good read, though.
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great post-colonial lit--Gurnah brings alive the culture and time of the Zanzibar of his youth, a place shaped by traders and settlers who came and went with the trade winds that circulated between East Africa, the East Indies and the Arabian Peninsula . This is an captivating story of legacy and turmoil woven with great personal insight and clever prose.
Shena Cavallo
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read this year. Simple, yet beautiful and deeply poignant. So many scenes are described so powerfully and the book is a powerful narrative of possession, ownership, home and the complexity and pitfalls of what happens when we aren't able to view things beyond your own perspective.
Andy Regan
Sep 20, 2020 rated it liked it
The complicated backstory of newly arrived refugees escaping politicial oppression from Zanzibar. Intertwined family rivalries and feuds interspersed with their experiences on arrival in England.

More showing and less telling would be welcome but cleverly plotted.
Diana Agudo
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful book. After reading it I was left with the idea that the Truth isn't always universal, it varies it the point of view of the narrator of the chapter...
Emily Starr
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
amazing. captivating and heartbreaking.
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Heartwrenchingly sad. Beautiful
Un Moine Vexé
Engrossing and melancholic.
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: want-to-read-tfb
Quite an interesting story that, perhaps due to the writing style, held my interest to the end.
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful and haunting. Some of the loveliest sentences ever.
Oct 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
I think this is my favorite book we've read for this class so far!
May 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Saleh Omar is an old man and an asylum seeker when he arrives at Gatwick airport. He is a raiiya, a citizen, of Zanzibar, an island of the coast of continental Africa. He arrives in England under another name, a name that has its own history, its own story, a borrowed name, believing that silence is his only protection.

Silence may indeed be protection, but it is only once he finds the voice and the strength to tell his story, that he is able to resolve his issues with the past. When Saleh and La
Carla (literary.infatuation)
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an example of how good writing can turn a simple plot into a wonderful reading experience. This is the story of two men from Zanzibar who arrive in the UK as refugees, as told by them (meaning two narrators). One of the Saleh Omar is in his mid-sixties and a disgraced business man; the other in his forties, a poet who arrived years before him. They meet in a small town by the sea after 30 years without having seen each other and settle old scores. .
As it is always the case with Gurnah, t
Anders Hellström
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
The story embedded nicely yesterday with today. Several interesting characters, intricate relationships passed by and fascinating places were painted with great care, and page by page more background information was added to the asylum seeker at Gatwick airport. So it made more seWhy the book yet not completely penetrated my heart was perhaps all the chattering about commercial issues. But perhaps that is what life is about for a majority of people. And also I liked the low-key approach to the s ...more
Fathima Cader
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-buy
excellent. poetic, deeply philosophical. glad to have happened on this book while in tanzania, after having visited zanzibar. the only quibble would be that the characters Latif and Saleh ultimately seem to be the same person. perhaps that was intentional, how similarly they react to events in their lives. in any event, the similarities allow for the feeling of an unbroken flow in the ruminations on family and history.
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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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