cover image Bakhita


Veronique Olmi, trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter. Other Press, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-59051-977-6

Prix Goncourt finalist Olmi’s second book to be translated into English (after Beside the Sea) tells the gut-wrenching story of a Sudanese slave who became the Catholic saint Josephine Bakhita. At the end of the 19th century, a seven-year-old girl is abducted from her village in the Darfur region. Named Bakhita, “the lucky one,” by her captors, she is forced across the desert alongside a chain gang. Sold and resold, she is terrorized by her owners, beaten and abused, her skin inhumanely tattooed. Still, she cares for any child thrust into her arms. When she is 13, a benevolent Italian in Khartoum buys her, and she begs him to let her go with him to Italy. There, after being given to a woman and serving as a nanny, she is sent to a convent in Venice, where she is baptized, eventually becoming “the nun who wears her story on her skin like stigmata.” Olmi’s prose soars when recounting Bakhita’s suffering and inner life, leveling off some after she is freed and in Italy. More than the sum of its parts, Bakhita’s story, and the author’s gripping wordplay, convey the unspeakable brutality of slavery and one woman’s irrepressible will to live. [em](Apr.) [/em]