From rising star and award-winning novelist Igiaba Scego – the author, journalist and researcher, born in Rome to family of Somali ancestry – comes The Colour Line, winner of the Premio Napoli.
I hadn’t seen Igiaba since before the pandemic, and we had planned to get together in Rome for this interview and catch up over a cappuccino while we were about it. However, as often happens, life got in the way and we ended up doing the interview online, after several preparatory calls and messages. We opted to conduct it in Italian simply because it is the language we always speak when we are together. Igiaba then read and approved the English version.
I was struck by the duality of the title of your novel, The Colour Line: a line of colour, a separation between black and white lives that becomes a line drawn by a black woman artist in her first act of emancipation. Lafanu is a painter and it feels like you have made lines and colours a leitmotif, almost an aspiration in contrast to a very black and white world, both in the present in Leila’s narrative voice, and in Lafanu’s world in the past. Can you tell me why this is such a central theme for you?
The ‘line of colour’ for me has a double meaning. It owes a great deal, of course, to Du Bois’ Colour Line, signifying separation, a denunciation of racism, discrimination, segregation.
However, it is much more in my novel because I made my protagonist Lafanu Brown – inspired by two real characters, Edmonia Lewis and Sarah Parker Remond – a painter. This was a choice I made to give her certain freedoms and powers of perception, but also to make her real and credible.
The line of colour is thus the colour of her art, and the colour that she tries to recover from the trauma she has suffered, which I describe as a draining of colour, a loss of identity, the emblem of which is the torn yellow dress.
This novel is the most complex novel I’ve written so far, and one of the themes is the reconstruction of the self after a trauma, which is a subject I am very passionate about. I have tried to dissect it in a thousand ways and my new book in Italian Cassandra in Mogadishu is also about that.
So, in a way, colour is also the essence of women’s life, of the recovery of oneself, and of one’s being. Our world is made up of lines – of borders, of separation – and yet colour is also what can help us transcend those lines of separation and cross those weaponised borders.
Read the interview in full in our The Italianist column.