cover image To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness

To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness

Robin Coste Lewis. Knopf, $35 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3258-5

After her maternal grandmother’s death 25 years ago, Lewis (Voyage of the Sable Venus) discovered a collection of vintage photographs capturing quotidian early 20th-century Black life in an old suitcase under her grandmother’s bed. Lewis weaves a documentary poetic work out of them, what she calls “an exalted Black privacy” that brings to life her ancestors, “to make the dead/ clap and shout.” Evident from the opening pages, one of the central interests of this exceptional collection is migration: “Signs and marks/ and nothing/ with which to apprentice them.// Evolution—/ the migration/ of imagination—// the image just/ illusion: a profound, prehistoric/ technology of leaving.” The pairing of photographs and text expand existing notions of how any single artistic medium or form can capture the nuances of race, family, and history. Shining with Lewis’s trademark lyricism and fueled by resonant and inspired juxtapositions, this exquisite book makes an impact worth sharing widely and rereading. (Dec.)