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The Black Madonna

The Black Madonna

Noah Sow, who came into public view for various artistic activities and her book Deutschland Schwarz Weiß: der alltägliche Rassismus (Bertelsmann, 2008) which translates to Germany in Black and White: Everyday Racism, has now published her first crime novel. I say her first crime novel, because the book Die Schwarze Madonna – Afrodeutscher Heimatkrimi or – The Black Madonna: An Afro-German Crime Novel – is probably only the beginning of Fatou Fall’s career as a private detective.

Protagonist Fatou Fall is the product of traumatic childhood. After her white, single mother abandoned her, Fatou went to live with two white aunts in Neuötting, Upper Bavaria, before she being moved to a foster family in Frankfurt. Fatou left her childhood behind her as quickly as possible and moved to Hamburg, where she found work as a department store detective. Now she has a daughter herself, eleven-year-old Yesim. Fatou decides that her daughter should develop a greater sense of home than her mother has, and that she needs to know about Fatou’s origins. So Yesim is to get to know Upper Bavaria during the summer holidays. What is planned as a relaxed mother-daughter holiday with the old aunt in Neuötting quickly becomes an exciting search for criminals and a humorous, critical commentary on so-called German values.

Fatou and Yesim visit the famous chapel of Altötting, to see its Black Madonna – a kind of patron saint to the Catholic village. During their visit, two masked men deface the chapel with the words “ALLAH WAKBAR”. Police stream into the church and immediately start speaking of a terrorist attack. Fatou and Yesim seem to be the only ones who realize that there are spelling mistakes in the graffiti and that the perpetrators were painted brown under their ski caps.

Since the police don’t believe Fatou and Yesim’s statements, Yesim makes Fatou promise to solve the case herself. After all, she is a detective. Fatou’s investigation reveals several suspicious characters: the priest Father Simone, SPD member Kilian Niederweiser, a number of fraternity members, as well as Martin, the son of her former schoolmate Anita. At a local festival, Fatou meets Grace and gets to know the local Refugee Group, who express a wish to help with her investigation. Fatou begins to move in different milieus of the small Bavarian town. Her insights not only help to clear up the case, but also uncover the local power games being played out.

The Black Madonna offers an enriching point of view for the German crime literature scene: narrated from the perspective of a Black woman, Black characters are not represented in racist stereotypes, and as such serve to counteract glibly typical, everyday racist situations. The fictional case also shows in an exemplary way how strucutral Islamophobia and racism cause police investigations to fail. With a good dose of humour, Noah Sow invites her readers to encounter Cultures of Colour with empathy.

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