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 Chippewa 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.
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. The Italian edition of The Color Line won the Premio Napoli, and her memoir La mia casa è dove sono was awarded Italy’s prestigious Mondello Prize. Scego received the Viareggio-Versilia International Award in 2021. Her previous novels include Beyond Babylon (2019) and Adua (2017). Scego is a frequent contributor to “La Lettura,” literary supplement to Corriera della sera, and to the magazines Internazionale and Confronti. She also coedited the anthology Africana.