Support poco.lit. with Steady!

Buchcover von Lene Albrechts Roman Weiße Flecken

White Spots

Lena Albrecht’s novel Weiße Flecken (‘White Spots’ in English) is an excellent example of a critical examination of one’s own whiteness. The novel shows how a young white woman gets the impetus to question the typical narration of German history, takes her newly acquired perspective personally and deals with the entanglements of her own family.

The protagonist Ellen is in a crisis, and then impulsively accepts the offer of a former professor to travel to Togo on a research trip. Once there, she sets out to follow the trail of German colonialism. This part is told by the first-person narrator; Ellen describes and observes what she experiences and who she meets. She tries to maintain a sober and curious tone, but doesn’t manage to remain unaffected. The second part zooms out somewhat and expands the gaze, Ellen is briefly observed and the narration comes from an external perspective. She has an accident during a visit to a colonial radio station, has difficulty managing her injury and eventually abandons her stay in Togo. The third part is told by the first-person narrator again, in which Ellen is older and has become a mother. It is barely about Togo anymore, but the experience there has sparked something. Things become apparent to Ellen that she previously had not taken much notice of, and she begins to intentionally pursue them. For example, she realises that her uncle lived in Nigeria, became rich there, and probably sexually assaulted a woman and got her pregnant, without then providing her with support. She also learns that her great-grandmother was an Afro-Panamanian. Her white great-great-grandfather, who traded in colonial goods in Panama, brought her as the only one of his Panamanian children to Germany. Ellen seeks out conversations with relatives and becomes more acquainted with her own family history, but many gaps remain. Ellen’s approach to reading novels and children’s books, or how she interprets exhibitions, has also changed: once seen, colonial linkages cannot be ignored. The question that remains is how this violent history should be handled. At some point Ellen realises: “And gradually I am realising that I can no longer expect an answer, and maybe that is the only true answer: there is none.” (Translated here from German, p. 227).

White Spots is an important book which sensitively shows how the critical process of reflection can look for a white person. I would especially recommend the book to all white people who, like Ellen, are planning a research trip to the Global South – or are planning to take part in a volunteer project or to go there on holiday. Concerning the German colonial history, alongside White Spots I would like more novels from a non-white perspective. So far we have had two such novels reviewed on poco.lit, Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah and The Magic of Saida by M.G. Vassanji.

(Weiße Flecken – White Spots – has not yet been translated into English)

Order the book here and support us! The work behind poco.lit. is done by us – Anna und Lucy. If you’d like to order this book and want to support us at the same time, you can do so from here and we will get a small commission – but the price you pay will be unaffected.

Support poco.lit. by becoming a Steady member.

You can support our work with a monthly or yearly subscription.