This book is a strange little collection of artwork by the author’s brother a practicing tattoo artist and captions and sparse narrative by the author, coupled with additional quotes and passages from other texts.
One thing I learned from this whole experience is that Sofia Samatar works at James Madison University, where I went to school, and so I went on a journey back through my department’s old website and seeing who’s still around.
None of that has anything to do with the book. The book is interesting and probably more so had I read any of the author’s other books. I don’t know if they connect with those worlds or not, and so the totalizing effect is its connections with books from Borges (alongside other encyclopedic fictional texts – Dictionary of the Khazars, Nazi Literature of the Americas, et cetera). I am also reminded of how much of fantasy world building is based on European Enlightenment ideals of Western literature, either as the central point to create or the central point to observe. So little literature that makes its ways into Western lit (Sofia Samatar is American by way of Ethiopia–which is itself the site of so much colonial history and gaze) from an origins outside of the canon and written by those who create it. So this little book puts the notion into play, being both the creation of a set of creatures and worlds, as well as the observer. There was an interview with Marlon James a few years back about his next book, which I hope he writes, about the Blackest most Jamaican Lord of the Rings ever. I am still waiting for the Junot Diaz as well. For now, I will go read more Samatar.