• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Review: Igiaba Scego’s “Adua”

The seductive pull of Western cinema becomes an increasing sub-text in Igiaba Scego’s visceral narrative, Adua, the story of a Somali young woman who becomes a movie star in Italy in the 1970s. It isn’t until the end of the novel, however, that Adua confesses to the lure of those films: “I wanted to be Marilyn. I wanted to Audrey, I wanted to be Katharine or at least Kim Novak. I wanted to tap dance like Ginger Rogers and do the splits like Cyd Charisse. I wanted flowers from Gene Kelly and looks full of respect from a passing Jimmy Stewart. I wanted the white clothes, the crinolines, the puffy sleeves.” (169)

She wanted another life, anything to remove her from Somalia, but what she got instead was the short-lived career of a porno-star and all of the subsequent humiliation after she realized what had happened. Which is only to say that Adua is the sad account of a young woman’s shattered expectations and escape from her culture and environment. Her one big movie, Femina Somala, was filmed after she was totally inebriated and required to act like a creature of the jungle that has a sexual encounter with a great white hunter. Besides the sex, the movie was a racist smear of African women. The director paid for her airline ticket to Italy with one goal in mind: exploiting her and making a sexploitation movie in the years after Western cinema began making porno movies for mainstream movie theatres. (Remember Deep Throat, playing in your local family-run movie theatre?)

Adua is left with nothing after the movie is filmed, but she stays on in Italy for many years; and much, much later she marries an illegal Somali man in order to save him from the authorities, from being sent back home. He’s half her age, at most, and she wonders why she “saved” him. “Every night my little man falls asleep on my droopy chest like a baby hungry for milk. I rub his head and nestle my hand in his hair. It makes him forget the cruel waves of the Mediterranean that nearly swallowed him up. It makes him forget the tranquilizers they put in the bland soup at the immigrant welcome center. It makes him forget the girl he used to love, who was raped and murdered by Libyans in the desert.” (23)

The novel skillfully juxtaposes the fate of Somali immigrants, today, seeking a better life in Europe, with that of much earlier Somalis who were often lured or sent to Italy for exploitative purposes. Adua’s beauty inspired the Italian film director to bring her to Italy. She is old enough to be her young husband’s mother, and she even refers to him as her “little husband, my sweet little Titanic,” (51) a derogatory reference to the American film. But there’s an earlier generation also, her father’s, equally used and abused. His story begins in 1934, when Zoppe is a translator for the Italians. Barely more than twenty, “He spoke Arabic, Somali, Swahili, Amharic, Tigrinya, and several minor languages….” (12) He’s brilliant obviously, but that will not prevent Italians from humiliating him, once he’s brought to Italy by an Italian Count who identified his brilliance.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the story, but Zoppe’s humiliation is actually even worse than his daughter’s. Eventually, he will come to understand that as a translator he has facilitated the exploitation of his own people. There’s an interesting parallel here with a short story by the great Somali novelist, Nuruddin Farah, one of the continent’s finest writers. Years ago, Farah published a short story (“My Father, the Englishman, and I”) that draws on the same issue of how translators—who facilitate colonialism’s implementation and success—are often involved in dicey matters that require them to compromise their own people. Shades of recent accounts of Iraqi translators denied entry into the United States because of Donald Trump’s entry restrictions.

Thus, Igiaba Scego’s Adua is an indictment of one colonial power, Italy, over several generations and how it destroyed the lives of many of the people “employed” by that power. This is something we have seen before in the works of other African writers who grew up in the countries controlled by the other major colonial powers in Africa, but the story of Italian fascism in East Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eretria) has mostly been unrecorded. The novel skillfully draws together the changing aspects of colonialism over a period of more than a century, asserting the obvious: Europe’s immigration problem today is the result of the ex-colonial subjects’ desire to seek security (from war, from famine, from climate change) in what was once considered the “mother country”? Some mother.

Igiaba Scego: Adua
Trans. by Jamie Richards
New Vessel Press, 183 pp., $17.95

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 23, 2019
Kenneth Surin
Western China and the New Silk Road
W. T. Whitney
Stirrings of Basic Change Accompany Protests in Haiti
Louisa Willcox
Inviting the Chief of the Grizzlies to Our Feast
Jonathan Cook
The Democrats Helped Cultivate the Barbarism of ISIS
Dave Lindorff
Military Spending’s Out of Control While Slashing It Could Easily Fund Medicare for All
John Kendall Hawkins
With 2020 Hindsight, the Buffoonery Ahead
Jesse Hagopian
The Chicago Teachers Strike: “Until We Get What Our Students Deserve”
Saad Hafiz
America’s Mission to Remake Afghanistan Has Failed
Victor Grossman
Thoughts on the Impeachment of Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Celebrity Protesters and Extinction Rebellion
John Horning
Spotted Owls and the National Christmas Tree
Dave Lindorff
Moment of Truth on Military Spending in the NY Times
October 22, 2019
Gary Leupp
The Kurds as U.S. Sacrificial Lambs
Robert Fisk
Trump and the Retreat of the American Empire
John Feffer
Trump’s Endless Wars
Marshall Auerback
Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism?
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War
Dean Baker
Trump Declares Victory in China Trade War
Patrick Bond
Bretton Woods Institutions’ Neoliberal Over-Reach Leaves Global Governance in the Gutter
Robert Hunziker
XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency
John W. Whitehead
Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World Partnership for Ecopolitical Health and Security
Binoy Kampmark
The Decent Protester: a Down Under Creation
Frances Madeson
Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Police Violence
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Challenges Logging and Burning Project in Methow Valley
Chelli Stanley
Change the Nation You Live In
Elliot Sperber
Humane War 
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail