Gabriella Ghermandi, Trasmigrazioni 0.1 – Bologna, Italy, 26 June 2010 License Some rights reserved by kappazeta

GABRIELLA GHERMANDI (1965–)
Contributor: Federico Fabris (University of Bamberg)

Gabriella Ghermandi is an Italian-Ethiopian performer, novelist and short-story writer. She was born in Addis Ababa in 1965 to an Italian father and a mixed-race Ethiopian mother. In 1979, one year after her father’s death, Ghermandi moved permanently to Italy. In a 2005 interview with Ubax Cristina Ali Farah, she described her earliest ‘racial’ and cultural perception thus: “My mother brought me up as a white person, hence enjoying privileges which were denied to other [Ethiopian] children. [...] As a child, my mother suffered her being of mixed-race. The [Italian] nuns educated her as if she was white, while people in the community excluded her for being ‘white’; she had therefore an ideal model of ‘whiteness’ in mind, which she thought unparalleled, and which she wanted to pass on to me” (Ali Farah 2005). When she arrived in Italy, however, Gabriella Ghermandi was struck by the sense of solitude and estrangement she felt there and slowly began to cultivate her Ethiopian identity more.

In 1999, her short-story “Il telefono del quartiere” (“District Phone”) won the first-prize in the Eks&Tra literary competition for migrant writers. In 2003, she was among the founding members of the online magazine El Ghibli, the first periodical publication in Italian to focus entirely on migration literature. Two of her short-stories are published in El Ghibli, as well as in other Italian journals and literary anthologies.

In parallel with her writing activities, Gabriella Ghermandi has been building up a considerable reputation as a performer of oral narratives adapted from the Ethiopian oral and musical tradition. Her reading performances are usually accompanied by music and revolve around a series of historical events. Her show Un Canto per Mamma Heaven (Song for Mamma Heaven), for instance, denounces the brutality of the 1998-2000 Eritrean-Ethiopian war by drawing attention to how this latter affected individual lives of people caught in the midst of it. Among her other reading performances are All’ombra dei rami sfacciati carichi di fiori rosso vermiglio (In the Shadow of the Shameless Branches Laden with Bright Red Flowers) and Regina di fiori e di perle (Queen of Flowers and Pearls) – this latter an adapted version of her 2007 debut novel.

The release of Ghermandi’s novel Regina di fiori e di perle (Rome: Donzelli) was hailed by a number of favourable reviews, both in the national press and on the internet. The story revolves around the character of Mahlet, and the mission given to her – while still a little girl – by old Yacob, an ex-freedom fighter and one of the elderly and wise figures living in Mahlet’s house, in the small town of Debre Zeit: “One day you will be our narrating voice. You will cross the sea [...] and bring our stories to the land of the Italians. You will be the voice of our history that does not want to be forgotten” (Ghermandi 6). Years later, Mahlet goes indeed to Italy in order to pursue a degree at the University of Bologna – her promise to old Yacob long forgotten. After several years, however, Yacob’s death finally compels her to go back. While mourning her loss, she is slowly reminded of her promise by a number of elderly people making her the unwitting recipient of stories dating back to the time when Italians occupied the country – between 1935 and 1941.

Cristina Lombardi-Diop has noted how Regina di fiori e di perle is indeed a “choral novel” – given its numerous and concentric narrative voices – and, more generally, “an enquiry into the identity of Italian colonial memory” (Lombardi-Diop 259). Making use of first-hand oral interviews with ex-colonised and colonisers collected throughout the years, Ghermandi articulates her own challenge to colonial oblivion in contemporary Italian society. Moreover, at an intertextual level, the book offers a postcolonial rewriting of an episode from Ennio Flaiano’s Tempo di uccidere (Time to Kill, Milan: Longanesi, 1947) – arguably the only colonial novel ever to be published in Italian. Set during the time of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War (1935-36), Tempo di uccidere describes the fateful encounter between an Italian soldier and an Ethiopian woman. This latter is approached by the young colonialist while she is washing herself in a pool of water. The briefest of sexual liaisons ensues, ending up in tragedy, as the woman is inadvertently killed by the man. In Regina di fiori e di perle, a similar situation is depicted, only this time it is a group of armed Ethiopian guerrilla women (arbegnà) who spot two tallian sollato by a stream. Having to protect the son of their female leader Kebedech Seyoum – whom they are carrying with them – the women shoot and kill the two soldiers.

Until today, Regina di fiori e di perle remains Gabriella Ghermandi’s only novel to date. The author is nevertheless much active socially and artistically – staging her reading performances in conferences, festivals and literary events around Italy, Europe and the States.

 

Ghermandi, Gabriella. Regina di fiori e di perle. Rome: Donzelli editore, 2007. Print.

—. “Il pranzo pasquale.” El Ghibli 3.14 (2006). Web. 15 May 2011.

—. “Da un mondo all’altro.” El Ghibli 1.6 (2004). Web. 15 May 2011 .

Ali Farah. Cristina. “Narrare il confine. Intervista alla scrittrice Gabriella Ghermandi.” Migranews. N.p., 31 January 2005. Web. 12 March 2011.

Campo, Vincenzo, ed. L’Italiano degli altri: 16 storie di normale immigrazione. Turin: Einaudi scuola, 2006. Print.

Clò, Clarissa, ed. Spaesamenti Padani: studi culturali sull’Emilia Romagna. Ravenna: Longo Editore, 2005. Print. Il lettore di provincia 123-124.

Gnisci, Armando, ed. Nuovo planetario italiano. Mappa della nuova geografia di scrittori migranti in Italia e in Europa. Troina: Città Aperta, 2006. Print.

Lavagnino, Claire. “Gabriella Ghermandi: Author and Performer with a Native Soul.” Lissan Magazine. WordPress, 28 June 2008. Web. 10 May 2011.

Lombardi-Diop, Cristina. “Postfazione.” Regina di fiori e di perle. Gabriella Ghermandi. Rome: Donzelli editore, 2007. 255-264. Print.

Serra, Fabrizio, ed. Quaderni del novecento: La letteratura postcoloniale italiana. Pisa: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2005. Print.