Sujatha Fernandes reviews 'Known and Strange Things' by Teju Cole

Sujatha Fernandes reviews 'Known and Strange Things' by Teju Cole

Known and Strange Things

by Teju Cole

Allen & Unwin $29.99 pb, 385 pp, 9780571331390

In the opening piece of his book of collected essays, the novelist and photography critic Teju Cole feels briefly possessed by the spirit of James Baldwin who, like him, travelled outside the United States as a black writer. In every encounter, from rural Switzerland to Palestine, Rome, Rio, and Moscow, we are privy to Cole’s vantage as an embodied black subject: his seeking out of African vendors in the Lapa district of Rio, the looks he receives in Zurich, the sceptical anti-colonial instinct he brings to the museums in Rome’s Capitoline Hill.

Unlike Baldwin, Cole is not descended from slaves. Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he returned with his Nigerian parents to Lagos at five months of age. He studied at college in Kalamazoo and later made his base in New York City. The essays in the book grapple with the complex notions of home for subjects like Cole who traverse cosmopolitan circuits. Like many of us who have made lives in New York City, he calls the city home even when not living there. Throughout his travels, Cole considers and reconsiders what counts as home, describing it as both a location and a state of being.

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in November 2016, no. 386
Sujatha Fernandes

Sujatha Fernandes

Sujatha Fernandes is a Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Sydney. She was formerly a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is the author of several books and articles on Caribbean cultural politics, hip hop culture, and global social movements. Her new book, Curated Stories: How storytelling is hindering social change, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.