cover image The Color Line

The Color Line

Igiaba Scego, trans. from the Italian by John Cullen and Gregory Conti. Other Press, $19.99 trade paper (544p) ISBN 978-1-63542-086-9

Scego’s accomplished latest (after Adua) revolves around a young Chippewa Haitian American woman who uses the patronizing sponsorship of rich white women to create an independent life for herself as a painter. The narrative begins with Lafanu Brown’s assault by a mob in Rome in the late 19th century, in retaliation for the recent Dogali massacre in Africa, then jumps back to Lafanu’s adolescence among the Chippewa, her time as a student at the private Coberlin school, and her romance with Frederick Bailey, a character inspired by abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass. Then a patron gives her the chance to go to Italy, claiming that “only in Rome can one become a great artist.” Interspliced with Lafanu’s story is a chronicle of present-day Somali Italian art curator Leila, who, while putting together an exhibition of Lafanu’s work, is inspired by the artist’s determination. Leila also assists her cousin, Binti, as she attempts to leave Somalia, and later helps Binti recover from abuse by traffickers. Scego reins in the sprawling narrative with keen instincts for storytelling and foreshadowing. It adds up to an engrossing tale of ambition, survival, and love. (Oct.)