Random. Oct. 2023. 256p. ISBN 9780812997118. $28. F
At the heart of Cole’s remarkable new novel is Tunde, a Nigerian American man teaching photography at Harvard who reflects deeply on the past brutality of white Westerners, its continuing resonance and enactment, cultural theft and the need for restitution, the artist’s responsibility not to objectify, music as his shield in a white-centered world, and the imagery, ritual, and import of death while clarifying throughout the importance of the personal. It’s a novel of ideas, then, but whether Tunde is presented in first or third person, lecturing students, conducting a gallery talk about J.M.W. Turner’s profoundly unsettling painting Slave Ship, or recalling past passion and the love and complications of his marriage, the protagonist emerges as assuredly “like life”—not merely lifelike, a distinction he makes as a photographer. Meanwhile, several chapters in the middle of the narrative switch from Tunde’s personal viewpoint to multiple stories about the residents of Lagos, a city depicted in all its vibrancy and wastage as being like a film shot from a moving car. These stories add color and context to Tunde’s perceptions without taking readers far from his intriguing story.
VERDICT Unique and important fiction following 2007’s Open City and several significant nonfiction volumes; highly recommended.
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