Early in the writer, critic, and photographer Teju Cole’s first novel in 12 years, Tunde, a Harvard professor of Nigerian descent, receives word that a colleague he barely knew has died. The news, delivered by the university’s dean rather dispassionately, leads Tunde on a quest to understand what it truly means to be alive. Written during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tremor is an ambitious meditation on the type of interruption that can steer a life off course, whether it be a death, a struggling marriage, or a surprising artifact found during a weekend of antiquing. Cole’s unconventional second novel meanders in provocative ways, often forgoing plot to follow its protagonist as he reflects on a violent world and his place in it.
The book is hypnotic, offering a vulnerable look at personal identity and privilege, as well as a wide-angle view on art and American history. The unexpected loss of life is also a prevailing theme. Throughout the novel, Tunde addresses a close friend who recently died, referred to only as “You,” in the hopes of accepting his own mortality. Yet Tremor isn’t mournful. Instead, it’s a sobering reminder that an unexamined life is not worth living. —Shannon Carlin
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