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He Won the Nobel. Why Are His Books So Hard to Find?

todayOctober 27, 2021 1

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Mark LaFramboise, a book buyer at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., said the store often struggles to get stock of a new Nobel laureate, but this year it’s been unusually difficult. “In a typical year, it would take about two weeks. This year, I hesitate to even guess,” he said.

In Britain, Bloomsbury has ordered “tens of thousands” of reprints, which are shipping all over the world, Pringle said. “Our printers are doing really well, they’re pulling all the stops out.”

In the United States, restocking has been more challenging. The bulk of Gurnah’s catalog is published by Bloomsbury USA, which has six of his books. Bloomsbury expects to have copies of “Gravel Heart” and “The Last Gift” in stock by mid-November. Bloomsbury said it had seen a significant bump in e-book sales but declined to share print or sales figures.

The New Press, an independent American publisher, which released three of Gurnah’s books in the 1990s and 2000s, had 126 copies of his novel “Paradise” in the warehouse before the Nobel was announced, and it quickly sold out. It has received orders for more than 19,000 copies of “Paradise” — which had sold just 5,763 copies since its release in 1994.

As luck would have it, the New Press had enrolled the novel in a print-to-order program through the book distributor Ingram, which allows publishers to fulfill customer orders quickly and ship them from Ingram’s warehouse. The publisher will also be releasing a digital edition of “Paradise” soon.

Ellen Adler, the publisher of the New Press, said she was relieved and delighted that the company could fill the rush of orders, and noted that she was struck by a comment Gurnah made after learning that he had won the prize, when he confessed that he hoped to gain a larger audience.

“Mr. Gurnah is right that he could do with more readers,” she said.

Similar laments were made by fans in the literary community. In the magazine Brittle Paper, which published comments from 103 African writers about the significance of Gurnah’s work, several writers said they hoped the prize would raise his global profile. “Our well-kept secret is out in the open!” wrote Leila Aboulela.

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todayOctober 27, 2021 1