Saturday, January 13, 2024


TremorTremor by Teju Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teju Cole's book is a learning experience. He writes beautifully, talks about historical tragedies, and the book has a challenging shifting narrator scheme and the same with many locations, starting in Maine, then Cambridge, MA to Mali and Nigeria and back. He discusses J.M.W. Turner's painting "Savers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying" which we've seen with its foreground of roiling seas and brilliant red sky and the ship Zong, plus the Africans, some in chains, which the slaver is throwing overboard, cargo he is transporting to America. Lloyds of London has since offered reparations. There were at least 130 who drowned in 1781. According to the BBC this ship and the crime paved the way for eventual abolition of the slave trade so something was learned by someone.

He also fields an interesting discussion of the unreliability of Western custody of artworks citing the WWII destruction of work by Van Gogh, Courbet, Murillo, Rubens, Titian, Goya, Botticelli, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio. by allied bombs. And there are references throughout to so many paintings (i.e. Chris Ofili's "Mary Magdalene" with a "violet so deep it could drown the eyes, in whose "Raising of Lazarus" there is a violet so base it could raise the dead."

In the beginning of the book, Cole includes a scene where his partner and he are shopping for antiques at a rural warehouse in Maine and find a couple of things they wish to buy including a ci wara, a ritual object representing an antelope and used by the Bambara people of Mali. Later, he goes to Mali for a conference and buys others of these sculptures. He also spends evenings listening to the music of the area at a club and the music is available on a playlist:

I'll skip a recap of the serial killer mentioned by a student in his creative writing class.
He also watches The Searchers and a 1994 film by an Iranian director, Abbas Kiarostami, Through the Olive Trees.
Art and music predominate but fewer books from this creative writing professor at Harvard. except for a handful of titles, Virginia Woolf's "The Death of a Moth." Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America about captivity narratives; Invisible Cities and Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. But I remind myself it is not about a WRITING professor, it's about a photographer! I had a hard time not reading it autobiographically.

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