Friday, October 7, 2022

Spotlight of The Color Line by Igiaba Scego


Award-winner of Italy’s prestigious Premio Mondello, Italo-Somali writer and journalist Igiaba Scego. 
Highlighted by The New York Times in an article dedicated to the best Italian female writers of recent years, Scego is a force, deft at exploring themes of colonial violence in her writing. 
Born in Rome to Somali parents who took refuge in Italy following a coup d’état in their native country, Scego is drawn to exploring migration and mobility, or lack-thereof, in her work. 
Her latest novel, soon to be released was inspired by the true stories of two pioneering Black American women abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sarah Parker Remond and sculptor Edmonia Lewis which are melded into the character of Lafanu Brown. 
Alternating between chapters on Lafanu—a nineteenth-century woman of Haitian and Chippewa descent who leaves a traumatic past in America behind to pursue painting in Rome—and chapters narrated by Leila—an Italian art curator of Somali origin who passionately investigates Lafanu’s history, this gorgeous, haunting novel illustrates the broad, diverse spectrum of “otherness” in their home and adopted countries, exploring through-lines in racism, sexism, classism, and immigration. 
We also see their perspectives shift as they look back on their teens and early twenties with the experience of women in their forties, resulting in a remarkable narrative of the intertwined stories of two women’s indomitable spirit across centuries.

By Igiaba Scego • Translated by John Cullen & Gregory Conti
Other Press Paperback Original

  October 4, 2022



“Powerful, provocative, and unflinching, The Color Line might be Igiaba Scego’s best book yet—and that would be no small feat. In this strikingly lucid and compassionate novel, Igiaba uses her formidable talents to remind us that the so-called forgotten histories of Black women cannot be silenced forever. The Color Line is a love story, and it is an ode to sisterhood. It is also a testament to the possibilities of liberation that rest in every act against injustice, and in every moment of artistic creation.” 
—Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King, short-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize 

“In Rome, an African-American woman artist finds freedom from America’s Reconstruction-era constraints; and a present-day African-Italian woman despairs over her Somali cousin’s quest to cross borders and reach Europe. Pressing themes of slavery’s legacies, colonialism, and citizenship rights shine throughout this beautiful tale of courage and tenacity.” 
—Mia Fuller, author of Moderns Abroad: Architecture, Cities and Italian Imperialism


“[A] polyphonic novel of the Afro-Italian experience…As Scego’s book explores layers of time and branches of families, it suggests that no history is ever as certain as it seems at first glance.”
―The New Yorker


[Scego] gives voice to multiple lives, experiences, and emotions either silenced or ignored by history. Her novel resembles no other Italian novel to have migrated thus far into English.”
―Jhumpa Lahiri, New York Review of Books

“Though ten years have passed since the novel’s original publication in Italy, its wider political nuances don’t feel any less urgent. The swing to right-wing governments, the reassertion of national borders and the xenophobic fear of refugees and migrants are never far from its center. Beyond Babylon ultimately succeeds in rendering these on a human level.”
―Times Literary Supplement

“Vibrant and heartrending…

This powerful tale winningly portrays the path from pain to recovery and wholeness.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Lucid and forthright, an illuminating work appropriate for a wide range of readers.”
―Library Journal (starred review)

“I could not put down this enchanting novel; its characters pulsate off the page, fraught with the entanglements of living. There is so much laughter, wit, pain, joy, humiliation, celebration, longing, tears, determination, aching, beauty. You read books every day and then you come across that one that just grips you and haunts you and stays with you.”
―Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, author of
The House of Stone and Shadows

“...a story of women who have never stopped dreaming and fighting borders and prejudices...”La Stampa

 The Color Line is a book on travel. On the desire and the right to move, to change perspectives. First of all a travel back in time, in search of a new historical vision.”―L’Espresso

“A story of violence and freedom, of racism and political and personal emancipation, through art and love (which is also an art). Igiaba Scego's new novel is a book of denunciation and resurrection, full of clouds and rainbows. The Color Line makes us travel back and forth in time, in a galaxy of women near and far.”―Sette

The Color Line is a story of migrations, of strong women that clash against an obtuse and brutal society, a story of women who- as Scego writes- have never stopped dreaming ‘everything they wanted to be’, ‘black women who, with their bodies, had burned borders and prejudices’. ‘Nobody ever disappears’, writes Scego ‘or is a true stranger’. And this book is no stranger to us, from whatever story we come from, whatever the color of our skin, whoever we are. This book fights against any compulsion, any prejudice, any denied right. It reminds us that history is not a fact of the past, buried under the years, decades, or centuries, but a living organism, capable of saving or destroying us.”―Tuttolibri

The voice of a true talent (…) The Color Line is a remarkable work. Scego was able to keep together the two storylines with grace: this parallelism between the story of an African American woman in the mid-nineteenth century, her clash with racism in America and the consequences of colonial imperialism in Italy on the one hand, and the lives of young Africans and African-Europeans nowadays.”―Il Foglio

“A choral existential journey, crossing the centuries and colonialism.”―Il Manifesto



It was the middle of the 19th century when Lafanu Brown had the audacity to be an artist. 

In the wake of the Civil War, life was especially fraught for black women, but she did not let that deter her. Daughter of a Chippewa woman and an African-Haitian man, Lafanu had the rare opportunity to study, travel and follow her dreams but not without facing intolerance and violence. 

Now, she is ready to tell her fiancé about her difficult life, which started in a poor family forty years earlier and brought her to become one of the most established painters first in Florence and then in Rome, where her studio became a required stop on the Grand Tour. 

Italy, 2019. A young Italian art curator of Somali origins is desperately trying to bring to Europe her younger cousin, who is only sixteen and already tried to reach Italy in a long desperate journey, where she had to face unbelievable violence. 

While organizing an art exhibition that will bring together the paintings of Lafanu Brown with the artworks of young migrants, she becomes more and more obsessed with the life and secrets of the 19th-century painter. 

The voices of these two artists whose fates are somehow bound-up in one-another across space and time, build a choral novel, illuminating further what it means to be a woman, a black woman in a foreign country, yesterday as today. 
Prime for readers of Jhumpa Lahiri, Laila Lalami, Brit Bennett, Chibundu Onuzo, Yaa Gyasi, and Tola Rotimi Abraham, this novel of immigration and emigration spans across time and place, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, from Africa to the US to Italy, and offers an opportunity to travel alongside both indelible protagonists, fully immersed in each setting and the journeys between them. 



Igiaba Scego was born in Rome in 1974 to a family of Somali ancestry. 

She holds a PhD in education on postcolonial subjects and has done extensive academic work in Italy and around the world. Her memoir La mia casa è dove sono won Italy’s prestigious Mondello Prize. 

She is a frequent contributor to the magazine Internazionale and to Il Venerdì di Repubblica, a supplement to La Repubblica.


John Cullen was the translator of many books from Spanish, French, German, and Italian, including Susanna Tamaro’s Follow Your Heart, Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck, Carla Guelfenbein’s In the Distance with You, Juli Zeh’s Empty Hearts, Patrick Modiano’s Villa Triste, and Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation 

Gregory Conti has translated numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from Italian including works by Emilio Lussu, Rosetta Loy, Elisa Biagini, and Paolo Rumiz. He is a regular contributor to the literary quarterly, Raritan.


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