Cover Image: Out of the Sun

Out of the Sun

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Member Reviews

I finished reading this book a few days ago, practically devouring it, and ever since then I can’t stop thinking about it. The simplest way to describe Out of the Sun is to say that it’s a collection of five essays about race, but this book is also part memoir, part history and part travel log. The themes of the essays are varied, each connected to specific regions and different forms of art. The first essay is about how European art (especially portraits) presented Black people, while the second one explores Canadian ghost stories which feature Black people yet were created by erasing Black people from their communities. The third one centers on America and the issue of passing, blackfishing and “being transracial”. The fourth one is about Afrofuturism and how it’s a genre of dislocation but also recovery, while the fifth essay is about Asia’s attitudes towards Black people, and the way European influences changed them over time.
The language this book is written in is poetic yet academic, so I wouldn’t call it an easy beach read, but the content of this book was so gripping that I wanted to give it my full attention anyway. While the language might not be the easiest to follow, the examples Edugyan uses to explain the main themes of her essays are engaging and fascinating. They span from the movie Black Panther, through Rachel Dolezal, to Covid-19, so it’s easy to see how the issues she writes about are modern and relevant even in historical setting. I know that this book will stay with me for a long time thanks to how insightful and reflective it is.
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From the description: Out of the Sun examines Black histories filtered through and depicted in art, and shows how new perspectives upend the larger, known narrative. History is a construction. What happens when we begin to consider stories at the margins, when we grant them a centrality? How does that complicate our certainties about who we are, as individuals, as nations, as human beings? 

Overall, it's an interesting book on a topic that does not receive much examination, or if it does, it mostly relegated to academic circles and not quite as accessible to lay readers. Edugyan's book, part memoir, part travelogue, part collection of biographies of significant artists and their impacts, is readable and interesting.
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Esi Edugyan's first book of essays focuses on questions of how race is portrayed in storytelling--not just novels but also social, political, and scientific discourse, beliefs, and narratives. When I first saw this book I felt an urgency to read it, but now having read it, I feel the need to share this book with others. 

The author employs five different subjects to work toward describing aspects of the racial histories of five different cultures. How European schools of art viewed Black subjects; how ghost stories involving Black Canadians are neglected and unsung, ghosts of a ghost; how racial passing in America may evolve to allow for "transracial" identities; how Afrofuturism became a motivating and widespread philosophy among Black people; and how Black Asians handle what may be called a form of double exile.

Many of us know the moving and poetic eloquence of Esi Edugyan's novels. I believe she brings this same spirit to these essays. There are many insightful passages about contemporary crises, including covid-19 and the 2020 police brutality protests, that give an extra jolt of action to her words. Again, the urgency of her writing in these essays is what sticks out the most to me. 

But because these essays all come back to trying to understand the magic of storytelling, this book has an aching humanity to it. The many vivid portrayals of historical figures, and adventures from the author's own life, all suggest the literary moments of everyday lives. It reminds us that a call for greater empathy toward one another and  a higher regard for human dignity are not just cliches from a morality play; they are valid claims in a possible world, a world where heroes can fight for a greater distribution of justice and win. 

We have lived in such a world before. Esi Edugyan reminds us of why this is an important quality of literature to grasp, and how we can put our understanding of race and narrative to inform our real world actions.
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