Spotlight on “Off-White” by Astrid Roemer

by LitStack Editor

In Off-White, it’s 1966 in Suriname, on the Caribbean coast of South America, and the long shadow of colonialism still hangs over the country. 

Off-White and author Astrid Roemer

About Off-White

Grandma Bee is the proud, cigar-smoking matriarch of the Vanta family, which is an intricate mix of Creole, Maroon, French, Indian, Indigenous, British, and Jewish backgrounds. But Grandma Bee is dying, a cough has settled deep in her lungs. 

The approaching end has her thinking about the members of her family she’s lost, and especially one of her favorite granddaughters, Heli, who has been sent away to the Netherlands because of an affair with her white teacher. Ultimately, there’s only one question Bee must answer: What is a family? If her descendants are spread across the world, don’t look similar, don’t share a heritage, and don’t even know each other, what bond will they have once she has died?

A moving portrait of a woman finding peace in the legacy that is her daughters and granddaughters, Off-White, keenly translated by Lucy Scott and David McKay, is also a searing and complex portrait of male violence, the legacy of colonialism, and a dismantling of what it means to be “white”. Written after a nearly 20-year break from publishing, Off-White is another masterpiece from the only Surinamese author to win the prestigious Dutch Literature Award.


An Excerpt from Off-White

I lie on my mother’s bedspread, thinking about my own body and its secrets. I must have fallen into a deep sleep around eleven in the morning; when I wake up it’s two p.m. and Louise still hasn’t returned. My two younger sisters and my little brother left for summer camp two weeks ago and will probably get home this afternoon, tired, grumpy, filthy. And in a week a relative will be moving in with us—Mama’s youngest brother, a medical student, who’s decided he’d rather live with his sister than in his childhood home in Jacobusrust. He bought a new scooter. He’s been on a camping trip. And he’ll decorate his bedroom himself. Through the lives of others, I am beginning to understand that life presents opportunities for charting your own course, and I’ll figure out the details without anyone’s help. On my mother’s vanity table lies a large Bible. She read to me from the Bible this morning. Mama likes to say God is her co-pilot. And I believe her. My mother was assigned a bungalow at a T-intersection. A bad location, because in the evening the headlights of passing cars shine into our living room. It’s not a busy road, but the lights get on my nerves. Mama won’t even shut the blackout curtains before ten at night. She assumes that by then everyone has made it home for the night, but as long as there are still people out, she wants to prove she has nothing to hide. There are half-finished roads between the houses: dirt tracks without sidewalks, grassy roadsides still teeming with slippery creatures. The construction worker my mother hired to lay tile in the yard, build a boundary wall, and install a heavy gate is very dark-skinned and very good-looking. When he sees my mother, he breaks into a flirty grin.

Source: Publisher
ISBN-13: 9781949641257
Publisher: Two Lines Press
Publication date: 04/09/2024


Praise for Off-White

Winner of the 2021 Prize for Dutch Literature

“Through the history of the Vanta family, in Off-White Astrid Roemer depicts 1960s Suriname. Class, skin colour and conservative sexual morality dominate everyday life.” De Standard

“A moving portrait of a family whose members diverge to different continents, education, beliefs and death.”Humo

“Off-White gets under the reader’s skin. Post-war Paramaribo feels vividly close right up to the last page.”De Volkskrant

“This is living, beating prose that you are inclined to read, inhale, and devour organically.”Trouw

“Roemer’s lyricism conjures up a magical and colourful universe in which desire and pain are interlinked.”De Telegraaf

About Astrid Roemer, Author of Off-White


Astrid Heligonda Roemer is a Surinamese-Dutch writer and teacher. She was born in Paramaribo, Suriname, in 1947. She emigrated to the Netherlands in 1966, where she made her debut as a poet in 1970. The Dutch-language author has published novels, drama and poetry, and in December 2015 was announced as the winner of the P. C. Hooft Award, considered the most important literary prize in the Netherlands and Belgium, which was presented in May 2016. Wikipedia

She now has a considerable oeuvre to her name, including a volume of poetry, Noordzeeblues (North Sea Blues, 1985); a play, Dichter bij mij schreeuw ik (Closer to Me I Shout, 1991); a novella, Levenslang gedicht (Lifelong Poem, 1987); and several novels. Her two latest novels, Gewaagd leven (Daring Life, 1995) and Lijken op liefde (Looks Like Love, 1997), were greeted with universal enthusiasm by the Dutch press. In 2023, she was a finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature with On a Woman’s Madness.

Titles by Astrid Roemer


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