Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah is the story of a young boy’s coming of age with the backdrop (and a character in its own right) of a continent on the verge of irrevocable change by the coming of European colonialism. This was Gurnah’s second novel, though the rich tapestry he weaves evokes images of a much more experienced author.
Sent to live with his ‘uncle’ (‘he ain’t your uncle’!), young Yusuf does not realize that he has been sold into slavery by his own parents to settle a debt. Despite his situation, Yusuf is relatively unconcerned and he is a favorite of his ‘uncle’, the regulars in his uncle’s shop and is nearly like a brother to Khalil, another of the ‘uncle’s’ slaves. The story can be slow at times, but the reader gets an intimate glimpse into the changing culture of the time, as well as an introduction to African Muslims.
Throughout the book Yusuf learns shame, love, happiness and misery; both within his everyday shop-keeping context as well as on an epic journey with his ‘uncle’. Certainly interesting fiction – it is well written and engaging.