Increasing attention has been paid in academic research to the role of cultural and social exchange in facilitating and furthering trade along the Indian Ocean rim. Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah enriches this body of scholarship, illuminating through fiction the way in which these centuries-old networks extended not only along the Swahili Coast, but also deep into the interior. Set largely against the backdrop of the social, political and historical world of East African society, his novels Paradise and By the Sea draw attention to these networks, complicating the concept of place through the displacement of their subjects. By looking at the behaviour of his characters alongside the trajectory of objects in the narratives, the themes of mobility and migration that develop are inextricably tied up with trade and storytelling. Through their movement – their acquisition, possession and loss – objects in the novels acquire their own biographies or, in Arjun Appadurai’s terms, “social lives”. As a result, they provide a means of bridging, otherwise disparate narratives. Stories, then, more broadly assume the role of passport in the novels, becoming a way for the characters to travel beyond the constraints of time and place, or to move, while staying put.