Known and Strange Things

by Teju Cole

KSh 1,650

A blazingly intelligent first book of essays from the award-winning author of Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief

With this collection of more than fifty pieces on politics, photography, travel, history, and literature, Teju Cole solidifies his place as one of today’s most powerful and original voices. On page after page, deploying prose dense with beauty and ideas, he finds fresh and potent ways to interpret art, people, and historical moments, taking in subjects from Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, and W. G. Sebald to Instagram, Barack Obama, and Boko Haram. Cole brings us new considerations of James Baldwin in the age of Black Lives Matter; the African American photographer Roy DeCarava, who, forced to shoot with film calibrated exclusively for white skin tones, found his way to a startling and true depiction of black subjects; and (in an essay that inspired both praise and pushback when it first appeared) the White Savior Industrial Complex, the system by which African nations are sentimentally aided by an America “developed on pillage.”

Persuasive and provocative, erudite yet accessible, Known and Strange Things is an opportunity to live within Teju Cole’s wide-ranging enthusiasms, curiosities, and passions, and a chance to see the world in surprising and affecting new frames.



Author: Teju Cole
ISBN: 9781846559891
Country: Nigeria
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Size (mm): 135 x 216 x 29
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
Colour: Black & White
Weight 489g
Language: English
Publication  Date: 18 Aug 2016
  1. Rated 4 out of 5


    I first learned of Teju Cole through his “small fates” project on Twitter – tweets that neatly compressed the singular madness of humanity into 140 characters. They were all masterfully written. He mentioned lifting them from articles in newspapers from Nigeria and 1920s New York in a Hayfest talk – the first occasion I heard anyone use the word “koan” in conversation. I was hooked.

    So I read Open City – and I struggled. It felt dense, a stream-of-consciousness onslaught of information and obscurity I couldn’t easily follow. I hated to admit it, but it I didn’t like it.

    Known and Strange things is different – it’s conversational: the collected thoughts of an observer – of humanity, of nature, of himself. Reading these essays is immersive – like delving into his mind and finding anecdotes and thoughts and lectures on far-ranging topics.

    The book is broadly divided into sections on books, photos and travel (Reading things, Seeing Things, and Being There), but the nature of his writing is such that he covers a lot more. Read deeply enough, every essay can send you on a several-googles-deep tangent. His writing on literature and photography is from the point of view of both consumer and creator and so there is a very deep appreciation present. Many of the books and almost all the photos referenced or considered were unknown to me, and this can make it tiresome if it’s not a topic naturally close to you – the photography section was almost overwhelming. On politics he is once more he keen observer – the bulk of the essays were written during the time of Obama and I read them in the odd period where Trump is still only president elect of the USA and some semblance of denial possible. In this context reliving the night Obama first won was bittersweet – the mad hope conjured up once more – but it’s still timely because of how Cole is able to stand slightly apart and observe – to criticize and question symbols and actions. He is the same observer of Nigerian politics and its facets as well -there’s an essay on the interaction between Patience Jonathan and Wole Soyinka, one on mob justice.

    There is a certain universality to his words. One senses the book binding is wrong – it should be a diary leather-bound and worn, stuffed with ticket stubs and stained by rain and drink and sun, a companion to a life lived all over. Perhaps because of his heritage as American-born Nigerian – a citizen with an immigrant’s experience – he is able to take all things and all people seriously – so much so that the brief flashes of sardonic humour or the mention of his wife catch you off guard.

    This book is serious and smart and very cerebral – almost polymathic. Recommended if you enjoy long conversations with people who know their shit. It’s almost guaranteed to introduce you to people and things you’ve never heard of, and if not, congratulations and please HMU so I can follow you on Twitter 🙂

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Teju Cole

TEJU COLE is a writer, art historian, and photographer. He is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College and photography critic of the New York Times Magazine.

He was born in the US in 1975 to Nigerian parents, and raised in Nigeria. He currently lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of two books, a novella, Every Day is for the Thief, named a book of the year by the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, NPR, and the Telegraph, and shortlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award, and a novel, Open City, which also featured on numerous book of the year lists, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New York City Book Award for Fiction, the Rosenthal Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Internationaler Literaturpreis, and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, and the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. His photography column at the New York Times Magazine was a finalist for a 2016 National Magazine Award.

Teju Cole has contributed to the New Yorker, Granta, Brick, and several other magazines. His forthcoming, Known and Strange Things, is a collection of essays on literature, art, travel, and politics. His photography has been exhibited in India, Iceland, and the US, published in a number of journals, and was the subject of a solo exhibition in Italy in the spring of 2016. He has lectured widely, from the Harvard Graduate School of Design to Twitter Headquarters, and gave the 2014 Kenan Distinguished Lecture in Ethics at Duke University. He was awarded the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for Fiction as well as a US Artists award.