by Astrid Roemer
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Pub Date 09 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 31 May 2024
A stunning, expansive chronicle of Suriname from Astrid Roemer, whose On a Woman's Madness was a finalist for the 2023 National Book Award. Evoking Toni Morrison, Edward P. Jones, and Clarice Lispector all in the same reverent breath, Astrid Roemer’s Off-White, in translation from Dutch by Lucy Jones and David McKay, continues Astrid Roemer's long overdue introduction to English-language readers.
It’s 1966 in Suriname, on the Caribbean coast of South America, and the long shadow of colonialism still hangs over the country. Grandma Bee is the proud, cigar-smoking matriarch of the Vanta family, which is an intricate mix of Creole, Maroon, French, Indian, Indigenous, British, and Jewish backgrounds. But Grandma Bee is dying, a cough has settled deep in her lungs.
The approaching end has her thinking about the members of her family she’s lost, and especially one of her favorite granddaughters, Heli, who has been sent away to the Netherlands because of an affair with her white teacher. Ultimately, there’s only one question Bee must answer: What is a family? If her descendants are spread across the world, don’t look similar, don’t share a heritage, and don’t even know each other, what bond will they have once she has died?
A moving portrait of a woman finding peace in the legacy that is her daughters and granddaughters, Off-White, keenly translated by Lucy Scott and David McKay, is also a searing and complex portrait of male violence, the legacy of colonialism, and a dismantling of what it means to be “white”. Written after a nearly 20-year break from publishing, Off-White is another masterpiece from the only Surinamese author to win the prestigious Dutch Literature Award.
Praise for Astrid Roemer
A FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD (2023)
“In prose full of sensory description…and evocative recurrent images of snakes and orchids, [Roemer] follows her young protagonist, Noenka, from a brief marriage into a voyage of sexual and existential self-discovery.”
—Lily Meyer, NPR, on On A Woman's Madness
“Finding beauty and love within any imprisonment is a glimpse of the divine in a person. Roemer’s novel glimmers with this holy light even in the darkest night.”
—Elizabeth Gonzalez James, Southwest Review, on On A Woman's Madness
Praise for Off-White
“Through the history of the Vanta family, in Off-White Astrid Roemer depicts 1960s Suriname. Class, skin colour and conservative sexual morality dominate everyday life.”
“A moving portrait of a family whose members diverge to different continents, education, beliefs and death.”
“Off-White gets under the reader’s skin. Post-war Paramaribo feels vividly close right up to the last page.”
“This is living, beating prose that you are inclined to read, inhale, and devour organically.”
“Roemer’s lyricism conjures up a magical and colourful universe in which desire and pain are interlinked.”