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The Creative Clamor of Igiaba Scego’s ‘Beyond Babylon’ | by Jhumpa Lahiri | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
"Beyond Babylon is a variegated tapestry that unfurls over more than 400 pages and weaves together myriad stories, voices, settings, and time periods. But red and gray, and the contradictory realms they symbolize, are the two dominant threads. Red: a primary color on the spectrum, representative of life and death, of anger and love, of communism, of Catholic cardinals, of brides in the East. Gray, on the other hand, is absent from the color wheel. A singular shade that has no opposite, it is the color of in-betweenness, of imprecision, of shadows. A mixture of black and white, gray may be seen as a compromise, as ambiguity, as a meeting point between extremes. Gray is the color of cities, of asphalt and cement. Of sobriety but also impurity, given that it is not an independent tone, but a meeting point of both.

Colors have always been freighted with meaning: political, aesthetic, psychological, emotional. They are linked, in almost every culture, to rites of passage and to ceremonies of all kinds. In the Middle Ages, when each panel of a fresco told a separate story, each color had a value. Color, in this sense, stands for language itself. And, of course, there are the colors that we human beings are born with: the various shades of our skin, distinctive and indelible, that also tell a story, that indicate our genetic heritage and mark us from birth to death.

Beyond Babylon is a novel that interrogates language, race, and identity from beginning to end. Both Zuhra and Mar—the other central protagonist in the novel—are Italian women who are black. Zuhra is of Somali origin. Mar is half Somali and half Argentine. Both deal with color as a marker of race. Both struggle with what it means for them. As black women in a predominantly white country, they stand out and also feel invisible. If the inability to see colors is a source of frustration for Zuhra, her spirited telling of the story—in a series of red notebooks, she makes a point of saying—opens the reader’s eyes to what it means to be a black Italian woman: an element of Italian society that few see clearly, and some don’t recognize at all.

Like most literary quests, the search to regain color involves a journey, in this case, from Rome to Tunisia, where Mar and Zuhra have been sent to learn classical Arabic. This destination is itself described as a sort of “gray” in both the geographic and cultural sense, a nether-zone between Italy and Africa. But nearly everything in this novel is the product of mixture, of convergence, of hybridity, also of doubling. Everything is itself and also its counterpart. Mar and Zuhra are two sisters. They have two mothers. The two pairs of women occupy the center of two stories that themselves intersect in the novel. Interestingly, there is only one principle male figure, and he is connected, albeit in absentia, to all four of these women."



"There is no better time than now to bring this novel into English. Now, when women’s voices are being heard in a new way, when the silence surrounding sexual abuse is being shattered, articulated, exposed. Now, when the question of Italy’s identity in relation to the rest of Europe is increasingly in peril because of growing populism, growing xenophobia, and racially motivated crimes. Now, when those in power in Italy call to keep out foreigners and close its borders—an attitude unfortunately mirrored in other parts of the world—is the moment to read Beyond Babylon, a book that insists on all that is open and flowing, coalescent and coexistent. For the babel of plurilingualism, far from a condemnation, is in fact what enriches and ennobles our natural state. This is a novel not only about the importance of living astride more than one language, but about a woman writing herself, with her own words, and thus her own language, into being. The word babel has come to mean “incoherence” in English, but it is Hebrew for “confusion.” And Scego has written a novel that takes the act of confusion—literally, the melding together of disparate elements—to its highest and most articulate level."
igiabascego  jhumpalahiri  2019  italy  race  migration  feminism  racism  identity  xenophobia  language  color 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Italian writer Igiaba Scego rewrites the Black Mediterranean
"Igiaba Scego is one of the most prominent voices of a new cohort of Black writers in Italy. Scego was born in Rome in 1974 to parents from Somalia; her father served as a high-ranking official in the Somali government before the 1969 Siad Barre coup d’etat. A prolific novelist, journalist, social commentator, and activist, Scego has won numerous awards for her writings on African-Italian identities and the legacies of Italian colonialism. Her newest book, Adua, released in Italy by Giunti this September, represents a welcome intervention into the diversity of Black experiences in Italy. Indeed, Adua can be read as an exploration of what Jacqueline Nassy Brown has termed “diaspora’s counter/parts”–relations among the African diaspora that are based not solely on affinity and sameness, but also on differences and antagonism.

Adua is told through two voices and over three historical moments, which Scego describes as “Italian colonialism, Somalia in the 1970s, and our current moment, when the Mediterranean has been transformed into an open-air tomb for migrants.” Zoppe is a polyglot Somali, descended from a family of soothsayers, who works as an interpreter in the 1930s under Italian fascism. In many ways an embodiment of the tragic maxim “translator as traitor,” Zoppe is torn between his struggle for survival and his deep sense of ethical obligation toward family and nation. A survivor of brutal racist attacks while in Rome, Zoppe’s translation work also affords him a terrifying window into the impending and bloody Italian re-invasion of Ethiopia.

Adua, Zoppe’s daughter and the book’s namesake, was born in Somalia but left for Rome at the age of seventeen. She is known as a “Vecchia Lira” (Old Lira), the irreverent term used by younger immigrants to describe women of the Somali diaspora who arrived in Italy during the 1970s. Adua’s young husband is a recent Somali refugee who came to Italy via Lampedusa escaping civil war; she calls him “Titanic” in reference to the precarious boat on which he arrived, and the two share an ambiguous relationship that oscillates from the maternal to the hostile.

Young Adua dreamed of becoming a movie starlet like Marilyn Monroe–her romantic images of Italy were shaped by the films she watched as a child in a theater built by the fascists. Yet after decades in Italy, she only has one title to her name: a humiliating and degrading erotic movie exploiting Italian stereotypes of Black female sexuality. Adua’s own tragic tale is belied by her triumphal name, bestowed by her father to represent the first African anti-imperialist victory.

Adua is deeply and thoroughly researched, a process Scego describes in the “Historical Note” after the epilogue. It is also a captivating read: the novel is sweeping in its geographical and temporal scope, yet Scego nonetheless renders her complex protagonists richly and lovingly. Adua makes two critical contributions. First, she centers Italian colonial history (particularly Italian colonization and occupation in East Africa) and its reverberations in the present through the lens of lived experience–the layers of intimacy and violence that characterize imperial entanglement. Contrary to the rabid rhetoric of ethno-nationalism, xenophobia, and border securitization in Italy today (seen in the aggressive taunts launched against the likes of Mario Balotelli that “there are no Black Italians”), Scego’s book underscores that “Africans” are not foreign Others intruding into bounded Italian space; rather, these intertwined histories predate Italy’s “official” transformation into a country of immigration during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

And second, Scego dispels the notion that there is any sort of unitary Blackness in Italy. Her characters are colonial subjects and aspiring freedom fighters, migrants and refugees of multiple backgrounds and generations–in other words, Afro-Italians of many stripes and political valences. Scego has taken us beyond the all-too common invocation of subjects “trapped between two worlds,” instead portraying a range of experiences that–while still structured by racism, misogyny, and other axes of power–can do justice to the changing face of Italy today."
igiabascego  2015  italy  mediterranean  colonialism  race  africa  racism  misogyny  power  blackness 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Igiaba Scego at New York University - YouTube
"A Lecture by Igiaba Scego:

"My Home is Where I Am. Re-Mapping my Afro-Italian Identity."

Introduced by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Department of Italian Studies, NYU

Igiaba Scego is a writer, journalist and activist. Her latest work, La mia casa è dove sono (2010), won the Premio Mondello 2011. Her previous works include Nessuna pietà (2009); Oltre Babilonia (2008); and Rhoda (2004). She is a visiting scholar in the Department of Italian Studies for the month of September.

Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò
New York University
September 13, 2013"
igiabascego  italy  identity  2013 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Italy is my country – but it must face its racist history | Igiaba Scego | World news | The Guardian
"Violence and rightwing rhetoric have made this summer a terrifying one for black Italians. The ‘Bel Paese’ must confront its past if it is to change"
igiabascego  italy  2018  racism  race 
may 2019 by robertogreco

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