This is a curated collection of essays by Teju Cole, also known for his fiction The Open City and Every Day is for the Thief. I say “curated” because Teju Cole talks in the introduction about looking for works to select from that he thinks are representative and connected, if not complete. So the essays range in topics, beginning with readings of James Baldwin from Teju Cole’s Nigerian-American background (separate and distinct from James Baldwin’s African-American background) as well as with Cole’s connection and work with Switzerland. The collection also involves a lot of contemporary political and cultural readings of Nigeria and wider African politics. He discusses literature and language throughout the text including reviews, critical readings, and more ruminative essays. His background as an art historian and photographer comes to bear on films, documentaries, tv shows, art history books, and most rewarding photography in the age of smart phones.
The book takes a look at a wide variety of topics from both a narrow language and visual arts lens, while never getting too narrowly-focused. Because it was published in 2016, it’s political lens come at the Obama administration several times from Left of the president, but in ways that could act as good reminders in the future as we sort our way through the current 2020 election and beyond. One of the best, last essays in the book deals with the concept of mob violence in some alarming and insightful ways and the temptation to discuss his conclusions from actual lynchings and murders to “cancel culture” is both tempting and horrifying.