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Inspired by true events, this gorgeous, haunting novel intertwines the lives of two Black female artists more than a century apart, both outsiders in Italy.
It was the middle of the nineteenth century when Lafanu Brown audaciously decided to become an artist. In the wake of the American Civil War, life was especially tough for Black women, but she didn’t let that stop her. The daughter of a Native American woman and an African-Haitian man, Lafanu had the rare opportunity to study, travel, and follow her dreams, thanks to her indomitable spirit, but not without facing intolerance and violence. Now, in 1887, living in Rome as one of the city’s most established painters, she is ready to tell her fiancé about her difficult life, which began in a poor family forty years earlier.
In 2019, an Italian art curator of Somali origin is desperately trying to bring to Europe her younger cousin, who is only sixteen and has already tried to reach Italy on a long, treacherous journey. While organizing an art exhibition that will combine the paintings of Lafanu Brown with the artworks of young migrants, the curator becomes more and more obsessed with the life and secrets of the nineteenth-century painter.
Weaving together these two vibrant voices, Igiaba Scego has crafted a powerful exploration of what it means to be “other,” to be a woman, and particularly a Black woman, in a foreign country, yesterday and today.
About the Author
Igiaba Scego was born in Rome 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, while La linea del colore was awarded with Premio Napoli and Scego received the International Award Viareggio-Répaci in 2021. Her other novels include Oltre Babilonia (2008) and Adua (2015), both available in English. She is a frequent contributor to “La Lettura”, literary supplement to Corriere della Sera, and to the magazines Internazionale and Confronti. She also co-edited the anthology series Africana (Feltrinelli), with Chiara Piaggio.
John Cullen (1942–2021) is the translator of many books from Spanish, French, German, and Italian, including Siegfried Lenz’s The Turncoat, Juli Zeh’s Empty Hearts, Patrick Modiano’s Villa Triste, Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, and Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck.
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.
“[An] ambitious novel by one of Italy’s most important writers…In its reckonings with racism and colonialism, The Color Line explores the potential for artists to reclaim line and color in the name of justice.” —The Guardian
“Scego’s writing is deft and agile…rich and layered.” —Booklist (starred review)
“An engrossing tale of ambition, survival, and love.” —Publishers Weekly
“Richly observed…Fluid and refreshing…this work tells an important story.” —Library Journal
“Igiaba Scego has written an intense and evocative book about the lasting traumas of racial injustice, the healing power of creativity, and the importance of representation in history. This sweeping novel based on real events is also a reflection on how racism endures in today’s Italy. The Color Line is a love letter to Black female artists who are all too often erased from history.” —Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present
“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