cover image Tremor


Teju Cole. Random House, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9711-8

Critic and novelist Cole (Open City) explores such philosophical questions as, “How is one to live without owning others? Who is this world for?” in his remarkable and experimental latest. It begins like autofiction; a 40-something photographer and Harvard art history professor named Tunde, who is of Nigerian descent, meditates on authenticity and colonialism while shopping for antiques with his wife in Maine, where he buys a ci wara headdress from West Africa for $250, its only difference from those that go for six figures being its lack of “provenance.” Cole then takes a thrilling point-of-view swerve by addressing a mysterious “you” character, an unnamed friend of Tunde’s who died three years earlier. Another turn comes in the form of a lecture Tunde gives at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he poses discomfiting questions about the white art world’s paternalistic attitudes toward African art. Tunde also interrogates his own classism, remembering how as a young man he photographed African street vendors in Paris and incurred their rage, and explores his passion for what Americans call “world music,” including desert blues and Malian pop. Elsewhere, the narrative departs from Tunde and gives voice, successively, to 24 residents of contemporary Lagos, their vignettes depicting a taxi driver’s capricious client, a woman’s legal battle with her sexist siblings over their family estate, and a breathtaking description of a painter making public and ephemeral art on a bridge. Everything hangs together brilliantly, due to Cole’s subtle provocations and his passion for art and music. It’s a splendid feast for the senses. (Oct.)