“[Scego] gives voice to multiple lives, experiences, and emotions either silenced or ignored by history. [Beyond Babylon] resembles no other Italian novel to have migrated thus far into English.” — from Jhumpa Lahiri’s introduction
An epic for an era of migrants, border-crossings, and traumatic conflicts, Beyond Babylon takes us deep into the lives of people swept up in history. Telling the engrossing stories of two half-sisters who meet coincidentally in Tunisia, their mothers, and the elusive father who ties them all together, Igiaba Scego’s virtuosic novel spreads thickly over Argentina’s horrific dirty war, the chaotic final years of Siad Barre’s brutal dictatorship in Somalia—which ended in catastrophic civil war—and the modern-day excesses of Italy’s right-wing politics.
Offering a visionary new perspective on political upheaval and identity in the 21st century, Beyond Babylon’s kaleidoscopic plot investigates the ways in which we make ourselves. Its myriad characters, locations, and languages redefine our sense of citizenship for a fast-changing world of migrants and demagogues, all anchored by five poignant individuals fighting to overcome memories of past violations. A masterwork equally as adept with the lives of nations as those of human beings, Beyond Babylon brings much-needed insight, compassion, and understanding to our turbulent world.
“In this polyphonic novel of the Afro-Italian experience, Zuhra and Mar, two young women struggling to feel that they belong in Italy, look for the textures of life ‘in the spaces between the Ferraris’ . . . As Scego’s book explores layers of time and branches of families, it suggests that no history is ever as certain as it seems at first glance.” — New Yorker
“Though ten years have passed since the novel’s original publication in Italy, its wider political nuances don’t feel any less urgent. The swing to right-wing governments, the reassertion of national borders and the xenophobic fear of refugees and migrants are never far from its centre. Beyond Babylon ultimately succeeds in rendering these on a human level.” — Times Literary Supplement
“Vibrant and heartrending . . . This powerful tale winningly portrays the path from pain to recovery and wholeness.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Sweeping and bold . . . In portraying the inner lives of refugee women and their first-generation, immigrant daughters, Scego has created a work of great empathy that is a testament to the psychological dissonance that refugees suffer as they remake lives in foreign places while under the pervasive shadow of brutal pasts.” — On the Seawall
“[Beyond Babylon] grows out of novels like Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Danzy Senna’s Caucasia: urban, coming-of-age novels written by young writers growing up with double perspectives, with the challenge of constructing a hybrid identity.”— from Jhumpa Lahiri’s introduction
“A prolific writer of novels, short stories, and essays for Italian newspapers and magazines, Scego belongs to a group of contemporary authors of African descent who have been articulating fraught dynamics of belonging to Italian society and literature.” — Public Books
“Igiaba Scego is one of the most prominent voices of a new cohort of black writers in Italy.” — Africa Is a Country
“What a wonderful, shocking, heartbreaking, exciting book, and how better to tell this story than through Aaron Robertson’s entrancing and pitch-perfect translation.” — Jennifer Croft, Man Booker International Prize–winning translator and author
“Beyond Babylon is an illuminating, courageous novel in which the word becomes flesh and the writing mimics the melodic, syncopated rhythms of jazz, Bossa nova, Somali hello, and salsa. It is a densely woven tapestry in which language is no longer a barrier. High Italian and slang are deftly interspersed with Somali, Spanish, Arabic, and English. A variation on the theme of dictatorship, to quote the illustrious Nuruddin Farah, the book is a fistfight between memory and the redeeming power of words. In the words of the five protagonists, colors and genres blend to reveal the consequences of violence and oppression on the bodies of men and women alike.” — Ubah Cristina Ali Farah, author of Little Mother