Book Club Fridays:Abdulrazak Gurnah's Memory of Departure

For more than 30 years, Abdulrazak Gurnah has written a series of books about those relegated to the forgotten corners of history. This week in Book Club Fridays we explore his first book, Memory of Departure.

This haunting coming-of-age novel, grapples with betrayal and broken promises and focuses on those in power as well as on people who leave home in search of better lives.


In spare but vivid prose, Gurnah describes the exotic sights, sounds and landscapes of coastal East Africa and the spiritual rebirth of a sensitive 15-year-old boy, Hassan Omar.


Living with his family in a poverty-stricken seaport village, Hassan, is surrounded by a continual cycle of violence and despair. His own sense of hopelessness is nurtured by the stagnant lives around him: his drunken, tyrannical father; and his mother who has resigned herself to being brutalised by her husband. A sister, who escapes the blind-alley of their lives into reckless promiscuity and a corrupt older brother, who succumbs to the poverty and eventually dies in a freakish accident.


The arrival of Independence brings disruption as well as the betrayal of the promise of freedom. The new government, fearful of an exodus of its most able men, discourages young people from travelling abroad and refuses to release examination results. Deprived of a scholarship, Hassan travels to Nairobi to stay with a wealthy uncle, in the hope that he will release his mother's rightful share of the family inheritance.


The book takes you through the highs, lows, fears, past secrets and future hopes to create a fierce tale of undeniable power.