Invisible Woman: Growing up Black in Germany

Invisible Woman: Growing up Black in Germany


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Had Charles Dickens lived at the same time as Eldridge Cleaver, the pair's expositions of child abuse and racism might have rocked the world. Instead, Hügel-Marshall's searing account of growing up in 1950s Germany, the daughter of a German teenager and an African-American soldier, fulfills their legacy. Born in 1947, Ika is removed from her family when she is seven--allegedly to protect her from a "hostile" world--and spends the next eleven years in an orphanage run by the Catholic church. There, she endures unimaginable misery. She is taunted for her "smell," called "niglet" and "chocolate-covered piglet," and is beaten and made to eat her own vomit. The nuns even force her to undergo an exorcism, telling her that it is the only way to extricate the devil lodged in her soul. Hügel-Marshall's memoir is brutally descriptive in detailing the overt and covert ways she is taught misogyny and self-hatred. Indeed, racism and sexism vividly intertwine as she exposes her country's cultural biases. It is grim, but intensely potent.

Still, it is the power of kindness, the occasional expression of familial love, and the quiet but clear praise of one teacher that allows Hügel-Marshall even a modicum of hope. Tenacious and proud, smart and sassy, as a young adult she becomes a social worker. A job in a group home for unwanted kids allows her to re-visit institutional life. There, she crafts programs that build self-esteem and self-respect among residents. Along the way, both she and they undergo a transformation, beginning the arduous process of healing from the indignities heaped upon them. An encounter with her father, when she is forty-six and he is seventy-five, further aids the curative process. Similarly, deep friendships with African-American writers Audre Lorde and Gloria Joseph, and interactions with the burgeoning Afro-German political movement, help her understand the oppression and torment she experienced as she came of age.

Invisible Woman is a celebration of human resilience and an indictment of ignorant social policies and religious brutality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826412942
Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/01/2001
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 6.24(w) x 9.48(h) x 0.68(d)

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Invisible Woman: Growing up Black in Germany 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
alyssama121 More than 1 year ago
Invisible Woman is a heartbreaking, eye-opening story about how racism and the aftermath of World War II, where there were many children of black American soldiers who were left behind in Germany after the peace treaty was signed. In a country recovering from war and Nazi propaganda, it wasn’t the most ideal location for these children to grow up. Ika tells the story of her life and her struggle to be seen as a capable, intelligent black woman within a racist German society. In spite of the profound and difficult subject matter, this is a relatively fast read. Ika tells her story matter-of-factly, even when relating horrible tales of how she was treated in her orphanage and school (which made it even more horrible, honestly). The style of writing is simple enough to speed through, which makes it so easy to connect with Ika’s story itself since I didn’t have to grapple with fancy language or metaphors. I was completely immersed in her story and rooting for her the whole way. It’s a story of a search for identity and belonging; when everyone keeps telling Ika she is inferior (even though she knows she isn’t), she struggles with finding a place where she feels like she belongs. This includes trying to find a group to accept her within her country, while also searching for her American father’s family, so she can get to know the black side of her family. The most heart-warming part is when she is finally able to meet up with her American family; it’s beautiful how whole-heartedly her family welcomes her and makes her feel just as if she belonged. I was worried about how her father’s wife would treat her, but she was gracious and welcoming, which Ika was grateful for. I think this is an excellent and important read. It gives a fuller picture of what it means to be black in a society that privileges white people, and reading about Ika’s journey growing up and finding herself is an inspiration.
Guest More than 1 year ago
...while reading this book. I am German, I live in Germany and I am mommy to a 6 years old Afro-German boy. I am so deeply shocked to read about the bad bad treatment Ika went through. My German brothers and sisters were so very ignorant, unable to accept a girl (and other Afro-Germans) because of her skin color. I am glad my son is born more than 50 years later and time and people changed. But also in the present there are still ignorant people around us. People which educate their children not to eat at the same table than my Afro-German son is eating, telling their children my Afro-German son is adopted, that he isnt my real son, and so on and so on..... Why we all cant accept that there is only one true race, THE HUMAN RACE? I admire Ika. She is a verystrong woman and I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart for what she is doing for the Afro-Germans.