If 2020 Was A Book by Rebecca Zornow

Books & Literature Nov 15, 2020

The City We Became

By N. K. Jemisin

Fantasy worlds in literature are often built upon one particular society distant from our own—medieval Europe. This is thanks to the landmark writing of individuals such as Scottish author George MacDonald, British writer C.S. Lewis, and British author J.R.R. Tolkien.

But what does fantasy mean for a country whose citizens come from across the globe? Often it means American fantasy is built in thetradition of European forefathers; medieval Europe is the basis for worlds created by George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss. However, we also receive works set in fantastical American landscapes like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning.

In N. K. Jemisin’s newest novel, The City We Became, fantasy comes to the city in every American’s heart: New York City.

In Jemisin’s world, cities are born under the weight of their own unique power. Places like Hong Kong, London, and São Paulo have already been born—they are sentient through a chosen representative from the city. But not all births go well. Jemisin writes about the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as the disastrous results of births gone wrong.

As New York City comes to life, its soul splits among six humans. Manny, a young man moving to Manhattan, loses his memory on the train. Padmini, a graduate student in Queens, learns she can suddenly change reality with math. Brooklyn, a rapper-cum-citycouncilwoman, realizes she’s not just the new embodiment of her borough—her city is under attack.

There’s an Enemy, an old one, that wants to take out NYC before it’s fully born.

The City We Become was published March 24, 2020, just days after NYC went on lockdown due to COVID-19. It was surreal reading anovel about the birth of NYC gone wrong when the real city was facing terrifying levels of the coronavirus. Jemisin couldn’t have anticipated the global pandemic while writing The City We Became (the prologue appeared on TOR.com in 2016), but she writes clearly and poignantly about an issue we’ve ignored for too long in the USA. And it’s the very thing that most threatens Jemisin’s fictional world: racism.

The City We Became is a must read for 2020.

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The City We Became
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N. K. Jemisin. Photo credit: Laura Hanifin, 2015

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Rebecca Zornow

Rebecca Zornow is a writer and book coach. She is the 2020 winner of the Hal Prize in nonfiction. Find her at ConquerBooks.com.

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