‘Exmatriates’ by Igiaba Scego, translated by Hugh Shankland

In this story, the narrator, a young Somali-Italian woman, asks her drag queen friend Angelique to accompany her to brunch at her conservative mother’s, specifically to distract her attention from a big announcement the narrator is about to make. While the narrator’s Somali family has been living in Italy for as long as she can remember, her mother refuses to buy a house, or even to acquire wardrobes or cupboards, as they would give a certain finality to their resettlement. Instead, the (rented) family house is overflowing with suitcases packed with books, CDs, clothes, souvenirs, ready to pick up and go if need be. But the protagonist, who has long been pining for a big, sturdy, cupboard, needs to tell her mother that she has decided to buy a house, in a symbolic ‘coming out’ as Italian. While touching upon complex generational differences and the pain of exile, the narrator’s confessional, anxious, and slightly annoyed tone make for a very amusing and powerful story. 

Like her protagonist, Igiaba Scego was born in Italy in 1974, after her Somalian parents fled Siad Barre’s dictatorship. Aside from her novels (which have been translated into English), she champions the voices of migrant and minority Italian authors through edited publications such as the recent Future (2020) and Africana (2021).

First published as ‘Dismatria’ in Pecore Nere: Racconti, Contromano 2005. First published in translation in Rome Tales, Oxford University Press, 2011