Zanzibar, an island set like a jewel in the Indian Ocean off the coast of east Africa is rich in cultural heritage: inhabited since the last Ice Age; birthplace of Kiswahili, the purest form of the Swahili language group; its original hunter-gatherer culture overlaid with Indian, Arab, Persian, Portuguese and finally British colonial and mercantile influences; and achieving its semi-autonomous independence in the bloody revolution of 1964; it remains the quintessential example of the fabled “Spice Islands.”
Within a swirl of profoundly different but concurrent beliefs and prejudices that seems only nominally Islam, Nuri is born and comes of age in the bosom of his multicultural family and its community. As far back as he can remember, he knows that Nuri is not his real name. His grandmother told him as a child that his real name was hidden, to protect him from the evil spirits that lurk everywhere in search of identities to do their awful bidding.
As Nuri grows older, the diction of the stories changes: from the naïve voice of childhood through the self-conscious worries of adolescence; the wonder of his discovery of reading and writing; the heavily accented “BBC English” of the senior schoolboy, its rhythms and diction in the clearly enunciated syntax of the defensive gesture; to the polite reserve of the professional classes of the “naturalized” Canadian immigrant.
In this collection of beautifully crafted, spare, concise and refreshingly understated stories, we accompany Nuri on his quest to understand how servitude transcends slavery; fealty transcends servitude; and community transcends fealty.
Amid a sea of dystopian world literatures haunted by the fractious claims of identity politics, Nuri Does Not Exist is an astonishingly charming collection of linked short stories that engages us with the utterly believable innocence of its Utopian vision.