Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Review: THE CITY WE BECAME by N. K. Jemisin

Rating: 4/5 stars

This book is very weird. But I also kind of liked it?

It has a very strange start, and for a while I had no idea what was going on, yet I was still compelled to continue and figure it out.

Basically we start with Manny, a human avatar of the borough of Manhattan, as he awakes from amnesia and tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do.

The prologue is nearly word for word (excepting the very last sentence) Jemisin’s short story that was published a few years ago called “The City Born Great,” which is kind of the jumping off point for The City We Became.

There’s a very weird premise here, and one that I didn’t even fully know when I started the book. Each of the five boroughs of New York is represented as a human avatar who is simultaneously a person as well as an embodiment of everything that that borough contains. Basically, the city is also a person. It’s very weird. But it’s also a totally unique concept that I don’t think I would have thought up in a million years.

So we have the five people who represent everything that comprises New York City, and they basically have to work together to birth (what many believe to be) the greatest city of all time.

I have never been to NYC (I much prefer rural areas) and I know next to nothing about its many cultures and rich history, but from what I’ve been able to gather online, the five boroughs—Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn—are all distinct neighborhoods, each with its own culture and people and history. New York City is these five places combined, and it would be incomplete if one of them was missing.

So knowing this about real-life New York City, it makes sense in the book that the five people representing the five boroughs would have to work together to create the city, because the city would be incomplete with the absence of one or more of these cultures, etc.

I think that’s a crazy cool concept for a book. It took me a long time of reading to really figure this out and put the pieces together, but I do think that if you are from New York or know even marginally more about the city than I do then you would be able to see this earlier on than I did.

I thought this book was going to be about the five boroughs finding each other and fighting the Enemy, but it appears that’s the plot for the entire series as they barely managed to even find each other by the end of the book. This is a very character-focused story that really delves into the lives and personalities of each borough before and after their realizing they were part of New York. The plot is slow-moving, but the story is not a slow story, if that makes sense.

The City We Became is a love letter to New York City and its diverse cultures, histories, and personalities. (N. K. Jemisin even says in her acknowledgments that this book is her homage to the city.) If you love NYC then you should read this book. It’s very different from Jemisin’s other works, but don’t let that deter you. It’s definitely outside the zone that I normally read, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless and look forward to continuing on with the series.

Manhattan: “I’m going to need a crash course in how to be a New Yorker.”
Brooklyn: “There ain’t no one way to be a part of this city.”

No comments:

Post a Comment