Italian or Somalian? Identity Struggle in Igiaba Scego's 'Sausages'

Igiaba Scego
"Literature saved my life", says Afro-Italian Igiaba Scego in an interview. "For me, as the daughter of immigrants who found themselves in a sea of uncertainty, reading was a life preserver. I found my history, myself and, most importantly, Africa in books."
Igiaba Scego was born in 1974 in Rome. Her parents left Somalia and came to Italy after Siad Barre's military junta took over. In 1980s Rome it was not uncommon for the family to experience discrimination.

Scego's father had been a well known politician in Somalia and had held posts such as ambassador and foreign minister. With the coup, the family lost their possessions, positions and connections. Thus Igiaba Scego grew up between a mythical past in which the Scego family was important and well regarded, and the deprivation of the present.


The English translation of the award-winning short story “Sausages” by Igiaba Scego, has been shared on Warscapes. Scego won the Eks & Tra Prize for this story, first published in Italian, in 2003.

In “Sausages” the Sunni Muslim protagonist surprises herself by buying a package of sausages. “I don’t know what came over me,” she says. “I am sure that the urge to sin was the last thing on my mind – in fact, not even remotely present in my thoughts. So, why those damned sausages?”

It dawns on her that her crisis of identity began with the announcement that “all non-EEC immigrants who wish to renew their permits must be fingerprinted as a preventive measure”. She wonders if she is considered Italian or Somalian. “Italy or Somalia? Doubt. Fingerprints or no fingerprints? Horrendous doubt.” (Source: Books Live)


Today, Wednesday August 14, 2002, at 9:30 am, something odd happened to me. For reasons of my own that are still unclear to me, I bought a large quantity of sausages. The odd thing about this is not in the buying of the sausages; anyone can do that, anyone can go into any old shop on any godforsaken street and say: 

"Hey, ma'am, wouldya gimme 12 pounds of sausages? The very best, ma'am, the kind that melts like butter in your mouth.”

Anyone can come up with such a request. It's not even odd that I should buy the sausages today, on the eve of Ferragosto, the biggest summer holiday in Italy. These days, Rome is the capital of a country that considers itself part of the global network, a modern city inhabited by modern people, therefore open – better still, WIDE open!

It was to be expected, then, that in a global world setting, this typically Italian holiday could be considered a thing of the past. As could empty streets, shuttered shops and the silence of a summer's day. Finding sausages no longer called for a superhuman effort. So, you must be asking yourself, what was so odd about it? What had upset the normal order of things? Me, of course! What was odd about it, in fact, was not the object bought, but the subject buying the sausages:

I, me, myself in person.

Me, a Sunni Muslim.

I don't know what came over me, I swear I don't. No rude awakening, nobody shaking me, no splitting headache, no abnormally low blood pressure – nothing, absolutely nothing! It was a morning just like any other, or, at least, that's what I thought. Some little birds (don't ask me what kind, for God's sake, to me they’re all the same) were chirping, my neighbors were cursing as usual, cars were belching out exhaust fumes and my bladder was launching distress signals warning of impending disaster. It was just another morning with the usual people about (nobody had gone away on holiday; in this age of the euro, vacations were almost prohibitive). In other words, it was the same old routine! I don't remember if I had a happy or sad expression on my face when I woke up, but I am sure that the urge to sin was the last thing on my mind – in fact, not even remotely present in my thoughts. So, why those damned sausages?

Read on  at

See a great video interview with Igiaba Scego on YouTube.