literature | October 21, 2012

Coming Home: Teju Cole Reflects on Returning to America [VIDEO]

Memory is a strange and powerful thing, says Teju Cole in this short video over at the New Yorker. (The video, above, is from a few months back, sure, but it's still amazing!). Cole may be best known as the author of the white-hot debut novel Open City, but he's also a serious photographer. His connection to photographs, to stories, and to his past, form the basis of the video.

When Cole was five months old, his mother took him from his home in America to his other home in Nigeria, a place where he possessed citizenship but had no ties to as of yet. In the video, he describes, in vivid detail, how he used photographs to piece together some semblance of the life he had left behind in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His novelist-like description of his passport (“pine green in color, large and flat”) and his use of his old baby pictures to invent memories of his time in America express the power that physical objects can have to trigger and create memories. When he later returned to America, he found that those 17 years of invented memories had escaped him. Despite feeling a visceral connection to his new home in New York, he needed once more to invent new memories of his former life and create new ones for the life that lay ahead of him.

Teju Cole's first book, Open City—winner of the New York City Book Award for Fiction, among other awards—explores similar issues of identity and displacement, and stands as one of the most praised debuts of the last few years.

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