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Admiring Silence [Hardcover]

Abdulrazak Gurnah
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 12 2012
A man escapes from his native Zanzibar to come to England, and builds a new life with an English woman. He tells reassuring stories of post-colonial Africa. But on a return visit to his country his vision is challenged and he comes to understand the transformations that have befallen him.

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Product Description

From Amazon

From the author of the novel Paradise and nonfiction works Essays on African Writing 1: A Re-Evaluation and Essays on African Writing 2: Contemporary Literature comes Admiring Silence, the tale of an African man hopelessly enmeshed in a trap of his own making. After fleeing Zanzibar for England, the nameless narrator fathers a child by an English woman and struggles to come to terms with the racism he must confront as well as his ambivalence toward becoming part of English society. The brittle and fragile existence he builds for himself comes crashing down during a visit to his native land after many years away. There he realizes that he is an outcast from both worlds. Admiring Silence is a bitter and often bitterly funny look at the struggle to belong in an alien world. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This tightly focused story of an unnamed Zanzibarian expatriate who returns home after a 20-year exile in England poignantly evokes the cultural limbo of many emigres. For his lover, anti-bourgeoisie rebel Ph.D. candidate Emma, and her upper-middle-class parents, the narrator plays the role of grateful colonial, fabricating memories rich with mythical glories of the Empire. Likewise, his correspondence with his family in Zanzibar carefully omits any reference to his long relationship with Emma, or to their 17-year-old daughter, Amelia. At 42, he is estranged from Emma and his daughter, abhors his teaching job and has a dicey heart. When he receives a letter from his mother telling him that amnesty has been declared for those who left the country illegally, as he did, and urging him to return, he does?and finds himself caught between his sketchy actual memories and his elaborate fabrications. Pressured to accept a relatively prestigious government-sponsored job, and to marry a young medical student, he reveals his situation with Emma and Amelia. His admission hurts his family and dishonors them socially. Upon his return to England, he finds he has lost Emma to another lover. The novel's strength lies in the unflinching psychological honesty of the chronically dishonest narrator as he comes to understand that his abandonment of his family of origin and his estrangement from his created family are part and parcel of his emotional exile. Gurnah, a Zanzibarian residing in England, writes with remarkable sensitivity, demonstrating the same incisive grasp of cultural issues that earned his first novel, Paradise, a place on the Booker Prize short list.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Time better spent Admiring Silence Nov. 26 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Admiring Silence by Abdulrazzak Gurnah is a book I did not like. Every idea or incident the narrator presents, to better show the narrator's personality and life to the reader, is either a petty quirk of character (really not worth mentioning) or a pointless wild idea. The combination of so many pointless characteristics makes the narrator unrealistic. All his whining and complaining do not help either in endearing him to the reader. I agree that the author may not want the narrator as likable. He may not want readers to identify with him. However by making him unrealistic and dislikable he loses many readers. Since a novel is meant to be read, and this one does not sell itself very well, the book, as a novel, is a failure. Even if the book is successful in tackling many social issues (Diaspora related or otherwise) it fails as a novel and makes one wish that Mr. Gurnah had spent more time "Admiring Silence" rather than produce this work.
(In all honesty I could not get through more than 20 pages. After that I predicted the end (i.e. his wife would leave him) turned to the last 20 pages and surprise, surprise my prediction was right. If the middle part of this book was any good I would not know. My harsh critisim is based on the parts I read. Please note (for those purists out there) I use the term "Diaspora" loosely and I had to buy the book for a comparative literature class and not by choice).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Admiring Gurnah April 27 2001
Format:Hardcover
I chanced upon this book in a 2nd hand bookstore in Oman and because of the Oman-Zanzibar connection thought it might be an interesting read. What I found was nothing that really highlighted the essence of Zanzibar but something more powerful and all-pervading to the consiousness instead. This is a tale dealing with Arab-African culture and European surburbia. It is frank and it is real. Gurnah tells it how it is is. What he is telling is a story that is reproduced many times over due to human migration patterns and the sense of dislocation migrants feel in the world and what they left behind and what they found themselves in upon reflection after living in other worlds many years later. Usually I would not bother to read stories such as this because I would be waiting for the stereotypes to surface. Here they don't. And for this - the book is well worth reading. Much of what Gurnah refers to in his spinning narrative rings true to my ears and experiences and I am not African/Arab nor sitting in England nor male. He cuts through to > the ways of life, the culture one leaves behind, the culture one adapts to, that many people are living the world over and I think some of his insights crystalise a great bulk of peoples lives that are being lived at this point in history. "Admiring Silence" is surely a sarcastic reflective misnomer though. "Onwards with Apathy" may have been a better title. But perhaps it was not apathy as such, it was confusion that led to the character's inability to decide and to act for himself. Sometimes I wanted to shake the main character just like Emma would have but strangely she never did.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars A Jewel, Indeed. Dec 30 2003
By Mig
Format:Hardcover
Sure, this Gurnah novel is heavy with vintage whine. So what. But I still love this book, the prose especially and, too, the meditations about diaspora, the implicit and explicit post-colonial issues involved. And I'm not a diaspora 'purist' myself, to recall a phrase from one of this novel's reviewers. And I did not read this book because it's a required text for a class. I read this novel because of Gurnah's prose, seductive, whiny, intimate, and ironic. Indeed, there are predictable moments in the novel, as predictable as the ending of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, when I first read that book. But a novel's predictabiblity is never a factor for me to discredict a novelist's power and talent. I read Gurnah because he's a purist not so much about disapora, but of language.
I don't recommend this book to anybody who feels they must read this book for a class. But I do recommend this book to those who care about literature itself.
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Hardcover
Gurnah gives readers the pain and confusion of
each insight in the process of adapting to a new culture, which, in this case, is the story of an African from Zanzibar trying to find fulfillment in postcolonial Britain. He falls in love with an English woman, and they have a daughter. But he has never told his family about his life in England. Nor has he told Emma the truth about his family's circumstances in Africa. When he is able to visit his mother 20 years later, he realizes how little he knew about his past.

What I especially liked about Gurnah is the unpretentious yet very sophisticated take on identity, a theme du jour in the U.S. literary scene but on a much more hysterical scale here than in Britain. No copycat magico-realism, but a very honest and devastating reflection on trying to be an ordinary man.

This could have been a story from my own family, though I have no roots in Zanzibar.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest portrayal of immigrant angst minus magico-realism Sept. 22 1997
By V. Rani Sinha (sinhav@lafayette.edu) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Gurnah gives readers the pain and confusion of
each insight in the process of adapting to a new culture, which, in this case, is the story of an African from Zanzibar trying to find fulfillment in postcolonial Britain. He falls in love with an English woman, and they have a daughter. But he has never told his family about his life in England. Nor has he told Emma the truth about his family's circumstances in Africa. When he is able to visit his mother 20 years later, he realizes how little he knew about his past.

What I especially liked about Gurnah is the unpretentious yet very sophisticated take on identity, a theme du jour in the U.S. literary scene but on a much more hysterical scale here than in Britain. No copycat magico-realism, but a very honest and devastating reflection on trying to be an ordinary man.

This could have been a story from my own family, though I have no roots in Zanzibar.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Admiring Gurnah April 27 2001
By sur flower - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I chanced upon this book in a 2nd hand bookstore in Oman and because of the Oman-Zanzibar connection thought it might be an interesting read. What I found was nothing that really highlighted the essence of Zanzibar but something more powerful and all-pervading to the consiousness instead. This is a tale dealing with Arab-African culture and European surburbia. It is frank and it is real. Gurnah tells it how it is is. What he is telling is a story that is reproduced many times over due to human migration patterns and the sense of dislocation migrants feel in the world and what they left behind and what they found themselves in upon reflection after living in other worlds many years later. Usually I would not bother to read stories such as this because I would be waiting for the stereotypes to surface. Here they don't. And for this - the book is well worth reading. Much of what Gurnah refers to in his spinning narrative rings true to my ears and experiences and I am not African/Arab nor sitting in England nor male. He cuts through to > the ways of life, the culture one leaves behind, the culture one adapts to, that many people are living the world over and I think some of his insights crystalise a great bulk of peoples lives that are being lived at this point in history. "Admiring Silence" is surely a sarcastic reflective misnomer though. "Onwards with Apathy" may have been a better title. But perhaps it was not apathy as such, it was confusion that led to the character's inability to decide and to act for himself. Sometimes I wanted to shake the main character just like Emma would have but strangely she never did.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Jewel, Indeed. Dec 30 2003
By Mig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Sure, this Gurnah novel is heavy with vintage whine. So what. But I still love this book, the prose especially and, too, the meditations about diaspora, the implicit and explicit post-colonial issues involved. And I'm not a diaspora 'purist' myself, to recall a phrase from one of this novel's reviewers. And I did not read this book because it's a required text for a class. I read this novel because of Gurnah's prose, seductive, whiny, intimate, and ironic. Indeed, there are predictable moments in the novel, as predictable as the ending of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, when I first read that book. But a novel's predictabiblity is never a factor for me to discredict a novelist's power and talent. I read Gurnah because he's a purist not so much about disapora, but of language.
I don't recommend this book to anybody who feels they must read this book for a class. But I do recommend this book to those who care about literature itself.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Time better spent Admiring Silence Nov. 26 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Admiring Silence by Abdulrazzak Gurnah is a book I did not like. Every idea or incident the narrator presents, to better show the narrator's personality and life to the reader, is either a petty quirk of character (really not worth mentioning) or a pointless wild idea. The combination of so many pointless characteristics makes the narrator unrealistic. All his whining and complaining do not help either in endearing him to the reader. I agree that the author may not want the narrator as likable. He may not want readers to identify with him. However by making him unrealistic and dislikable he loses many readers. Since a novel is meant to be read, and this one does not sell itself very well, the book, as a novel, is a failure. Even if the book is successful in tackling many social issues (Diaspora related or otherwise) it fails as a novel and makes one wish that Mr. Gurnah had spent more time "Admiring Silence" rather than produce this work.
(In all honesty I could not get through more than 20 pages. After that I predicted the end (i.e. his wife would leave him) turned to the last 20 pages and surprise, surprise my prediction was right. If the middle part of this book was any good I would not know. My harsh critisim is based on the parts I read. Please note (for those purists out there) I use the term "Diaspora" loosely and I had to buy the book for a comparative literature class and not by choice).
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