Most people in Germany have certainly heard the name Jasmina Kuhnke before, or at least Kuhnke’s pseudonym Quattromilf (Mom I’d like to follow), in the media or on social media. Her effective activism against racism means that Kuhnke is constantly exposed to hate. In late 2020, Kuhnke initiated the Sheroes Fund with the Amadeo Antonio Foundation, which aims to provide financial support to victims of far-right violence who are female, trans, inter, or non-binary if they – like Kuhnke herself – need to pay legal fees or relocation costs. But this isn’t really primarily about Kuhnke’s online presence and activism, but about her first literary work, the novel Schwarzes Herz (Black Heart – not translated into English yet), which I was very excited to read!
The almost 200 pages read away quickly, even if they mostly tell of terrible experiences. So at this point, as at the beginning of the book, a content warning seems necessary: the novel is about all kinds of violence – racial, psychological, physical and sexual violence. Readers are advised to take care of themselves. The impact of this extreme violence is heightened by the fact that the novel reads like a diary entry by the protagonist. While she frames her experiences with the strong and proud realization that she has successfully resisted, it is otherwise a subjective account of how a violent white stepfather, an aggressive white partner, and the German school system with a majority of white teachers try to break the Black girl who is growing into a woman. Kuhnke does not gloss over any of these experiences. The self-doubt and wounded self-worth of the first-person narrator make uncomfortably clear what disastrous psychological consequences discrimination can have, especially when a Black person grows up isolated from others with similar experiences.
The book is set in the Ruhr region, the city of Duisburg is mentioned. But how the narrator describes people in her surroundings and her small-town Ruhr context remains superficial. Depicting the experiences as not necessarily tied to a specific place reinforces that problems such as racism or domestic violence in Germany are structural – and not place specific.
In keeping with the diary style, the book does not offer any other perspective on the narrator and protagonist that would break with racist attributions and resulting self-doubt. Only the protagonist’s self-liberation at the end, which is a very small part of the book, suggests a different perspective. I repeatedly felt that it would have enriched the novel’s critique, if the narrative perspective had occasionally looked beyond this one character’s consciousness. Still, I recommend Schwarzes Herz to everyone who enjoys secretly leafing through diaries of others or delving into one person’s specific experiences. The first-person perspective, which allows readers to experience the fictional world of the protagonist from her perspective, is a valuable one, especially in the context of racism and sexualized violence: we hear the voice of someone affected by these kinds of violence.
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