Biskaya (SchwarzRund)

Biskaya is the first novel by SchwarzRund.
Finished on: 30.6.2021

Content Note: suicide, mental illness, eating disorder, (critical treatment of) racism and queermisia

Plot:
Tue is a Black woman in Berlin. She grew up on Biskaya, an island state that is part of the EU, but moved to Germany when she was still pretty young. Now she is the singer in punk band with a pretty good reputation and some success. But Tue struggles with her mental health, with being a Black queer woman in Germany, with her band members and with her flatmates. It is only with her best friend Matth, also queer and Black, that she feels at home.

Biskaya is an ambitious book. In some ways it is rather obvious that is a debut novel and maybe not quite as polished as you’d expect, but it is definitely worth it for the interesting perspectives it provides.

The book cover showing a slightly abstract painting by the author, a human figure in red, around the upper arm what could be a green bracelet with yellow pearls.

We don’t often get German language books written by and about Black people, so that in itself makes Biskaya very special. That SchwarzRund combines this Black perspective with a queer-feminist approach makes it even better, if you ask me. This becomes apparent not just in the fact that there are practically no cishet people in this book, but also in the language SchwarzRund uses – a gender-inclusive version of German (German is a heavily gendered language so that is easier said than done).

But it was with the language that I also struggled a little bit. At times it jolted me a little out of the book because it was trying very hard to be “literary language”. Less would have been more here, ensuring a better flow instead of feeling a little stilted. But this is an understandably difficult balance to maintain in a debut novel in particular. That the book also includes some of Tue’s song lyrics isn’t so much my cup of tea, but that’s just a question of personal preference.

Tue is an abrasive character, hardened by her life experiences and struggles, who I found very engaging and who also gets to grow a lot, which I liked. The book covers a few years and thus gives her the room for said growth. The other characters in the book – Dwayne and Matth in particular – get less attention, but show us that Tue’s experience is not the only “Black experience”. That’s a good thing, also because Tue really goes through a lot of shit. And it’s not like Dwayne and Matth don’t have problems, but they give us other aspects here.

Biskaya is a highly political novel that is a little more preoccupied with the politics than with the story (some things are a little unclear narratively, and a little messy in their introduction or connection with the overall story). That doesn’t mean that ther isn’t a story or that you don’t root for Tue, even when she fucks up.

In short, it is certainly worth a read, to immerse yourself in the experiences of Black, queer people in Germany.

Summarizing: very good.

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