Book Review: Out of the Sun by Esi Edugyan

Out of the Sun – Esi Edugyan (Anansi, 2021)

Esi Edugyan is best known for her award-winning fiction – Half Blood Blues and Washington Black – but in this non-fiction book she tackles the subjects of Race and Storytelling. The book is divided according to geographical areas as well as topics: Europe and the Art of Seeing; Canada and the Art of Ghosts; America and the Art of Empathy; Africa and the Art of the Future; Asia and the Art of Storytellings. Each sections combines personal anecdotes and Edugyan’s own travel experiences, as well as historical figures, current events, and art.

The essays are engaging and thoughtful. Edugyan delves into portrayals of Black people in movies and art. She talks about her travels in Europe, looking at famous paintings where none of the people looked like her. She examines the eccentric character of Edward Makuka Nkoloso, a Nigerian who claimed to have a plan to send people to Mars, and she ties this in with the utopian alternative African reality as seen in Black Panther. She looks at the controversy of Rachel Dolezal and whether or not the idea of being trans-racial has any validity.

Each essay is centred closely around place and Edugyan does a fantastic job of aiding the reader to view the world through new eyes. We are so used to absorbing media through the perspective of White North Americans that it still feels surprising and a little shocking when that view is gently pushed to the side so that we might look through new eyes.

In Canada, this book is published as part of the Massey Lecture Series, which is a public lecture series given annually by a noted scholar or public figure. I haven’t read many of the Massey books in the past but was drawn to Out of the Sun because I love Edugyan’s other work. She does not disappoint here.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Out of the Sun by Esi Edugyan”

  1. I’m surprised the United States was connected with empathy. While you may meet some incredibly nice folks here, I think we’re struggling with empathy, with evidence like #AllLivesMatter, #NotAllMen, gendered bathrooms, trying to outlaw abortion but having little in the way of affordable medical care, housing, or daycare, etc.

    1. Yeah, unfortunately you’re not alone in seeing the evidence that way. Though I’m not sure we’re doing much better in Canada. In that chapter she talks about the idea of “passing” as well as a couple of white men who went “undercover” as black men, and people like Rachel Dolezal. I found her perspective on such people surprisingly sympathetic, even while criticizing the fact that someone like Dolezal took up space reserved and needed for the Black community. I really appreciated Edugyan’s perspective on this because it’s not something I can entirely understand as a white person so her nuanced look at it was eye-opening to me.

  2. I don’t read many of the Massey Lectures, probably because I tend to read more fiction than non-fiction, but I love to hear anything Esi has to say, she’s so intelligent! I’m so in awe of her writing, no matter what its about, so no surprise this is highly recommended too.

    1. I think I’ve maybe read one before? This is so good though and definitely extra recommended to anyone who is already a fan of her work.

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