Summary and book reviews of African Europeans by Olivette Otele

African Europeans

An Untold History

by Olivette Otele

African Europeans by Olivette Otele X
African Europeans by Olivette Otele
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  • Published:
    May 2021, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

A dazzling history of Africans in Europe, revealing their unacknowledged role in shaping the continent.

Conventional wisdom holds that Africans are only a recent presence in Europe. But in African Europeans, renowned historian Olivette Otele debunks this and uncovers a long history of Europeans of African descent. From the third century, when the Egyptian Saint Maurice became the leader of a Roman legion, all the way up to the present, Otele explores encounters between those defined as "Africans" and those called "Europeans." She gives equal attention to the most prominent figures—like Alessandro de Medici, the first duke of Florence thought to have been born to a free African woman in a Roman village—and the untold stories—like the lives of dual-heritage families in Europe's coastal trading towns.

African Europeans is a landmark celebration of this integral, vibrantly complex slice of European history, and will redefine the field for years to come.



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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The juxtaposition of the historic lives with the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as Otele's call for greater Black female representation in academia, will spur many a reader to greater awareness of the past and what work still needs doing to achieve racial equality and justice. Overall, African Europeans is essential if sometimes challenging reading. While the text often seems targeted to a peer-reviewing audience, it is the people of Otele's book who steal the show...continued

Full Review Members Only (682 words).

(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

Foreign Affairs
In a sweeping history extending from the classical world to the twentieth century, Otele masterfully analyzes the changing relationship between Africa and Europe through the lives of individual Africans who in some manner dealt with Europeans....Otele argues convincingly that the hardening of racist European views about Africans was the inevitable result of the Atlantic slave trade and the subsequent colonial occupation of the continent. But even in this more recent hate-filled period, Otele finds examples of Africans or people of African descent who achieved prominence in Europe against the odds.

The Guardian (UK)
Magisterial...A story of violence and exclusion but also extraordinary destinies and achievements. Particularly admirable is Otele's command of the subtleties of identity formation and change over time, as well as her marvellous cast of women characters, such as Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire's muse and lover.

Prospect (UK)
Superbly researched...This richly layered history brims with stories of how African Europeans contributed to the culture, politics and language in the countries they lived in.

Publishers Weekly
Though short on political and socioeconomic context, Otele's profiles reveal the richness and variety of the African European experience. This is a welcome introduction to an underexplored subject.

Library Journal
Sweeping new history… Particularly powerful is the way Otele leaps between the centuries to lay bare the “connections across time and space” that have shaped, and will continue to shape, the identities and lives of African Europeans.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The breadth and depth of Otele's research are impressive, as are the vivid characters who populate these pages...By detailing such a wide variety of experiences across a vast geographical and cultural landscape, the author causes us to rethink the way we consider the terms African and European...A thorough, dynamic, accessible narrative that pulls together disparate strands into a unique, fresh history.

Author Blurb Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)
This is a book I have been waiting for my whole life. It goes beyond the numerous individual black people in Europe over millennia, to show us the history of the very ideas of blackness, community and identity on the continent that has forgotten its own past. A necessary and exciting read.

Author Blurb Priyamvada Gopal, author of Insurgent Empire
Yoking together the 'African' and the 'European,' too often treated as entirely separate categories, Otele skillfully invites her reader to navigate the multiple intersecting worlds inhabited by her characters. This is fundamentally reparative writing that undoes the cultivated ignorance around race and blackness in Europe and shows us what is irrefutably true—that black history is European history, indeed, world history.

Author Blurb Simon Sebag Montefiore
Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History is superb. Enlightening and erudite, it deploys awesome range, narrative panache and deep scholarship to overthrow conventional wisdom and show the neglected role of Africans in European history from ancient times.

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Beyond the Book

Grime Music

Graphic featuring the word grime repeated in different colorsAs Olivette Otele references in her book African Europeans: An Untold History, many Black British artists find music to be an effective and far-reaching medium in which to address and explore their heritage and life experiences as people of color. Grime music has become one of the hottest and most vibrant genres to emerge in the UK in the last two decades. Born in the early 2000s, grime takes its inspiration from a wide range of music genres, such as hip hop, electronic, dancehall and garage.

Grime's most noticeable features include its distinct machine-gun-like rapping over a rapid breakbeat of around 130 beats per minute with an element of electronic sounds mixed in. UK artist Wiley, aka Eskiboy, is recognized as one of the major ...

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