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.