KNOWN AND STRANGE THINGS by Teju Cole
Kirkus Star

KNOWN AND STRANGE THINGS

Essays
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A striking collection of essays that will leave readers wanting to reimagine our contemporary environment.

In his first work of nonfiction, Cole (Every Day Is for the Thief, 2015, etc.) crafts an anthological book of reflections divided into four parts: “Reading Things,” “Seeing Things,” “Being Here,” and “Epilogue.” Without much warning, readers are immediately thrown into the current issues that punctuate the news, social media, and the literary community. Acclaimed as both photographer and art theorist, Cole uses short essays to communicate fundamental ideas about his craft: “a photograph is…a little machine of ironies that contains within it a number of oppositions: light and dark, memory and forgetting, ethics and injustice, permanence and evanescence.” The author discusses James Baldwin and Jacques Derrida, and he analyzes the works of various photographers and poets throughout the years. The result is a compilation of essays that call to mind what Walter Benjamin did in his Illuminations: taking cultural works and applying them critically and politically to the now. “The black body comes prejudged, and as a result it is placed in needless jeopardy,” writes Cole. In fact, questions of race identity and justice are paramount for the author. “History won’t let go of us,” he writes. “We’re pinned to it.” What’s clear is that Cole perseveres in breaking away from historical tropes, offering to his readers differing perspectives that emerge from wide-ranging areas of study. “What always interests me—indeed obsesses me—is the way we engage in history,” he writes. “Except there is no ‘we.’ Americans do it differently and, often, irresponsibly and without particular interest.” Moments like these will make American readers stop to think, question the population they belong to, and find ways to make it better. The hope that Cole infuses in his prose is mirrored with poetically entrancing sentences: “We are not mayflies. We have known afternoons, and we live day after day for a great many days.”

A bold, honest, and controversially necessary read.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-8129-8978-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2016




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