I sing the city.

N. K. Jemisin’s latest novel is a love letter to New York, in the form of an epic battle for the city’s future – played out between five humans who stand for each of its boroughs, and an ancient evil that attacks cities just as they’re becoming sentient. Jemisin braids Lovecraftian monsters with the everyday evils of gentrification, poverty, racism and police brutality.

Talking Points

If you’re not sure where to start a conversation in a breakout room during Book Club, find an example in the text related to one of these themes. Or, pick a passage that stood out to you and share it with the group.

  • The city as character(s)! – and the complex interplay between boroughs-as-characters
  • Stereotypes, used as both strength and weakness for each borough
  • The juxtaposition of epic fantasy good vs. evil, played out in real world/recognizable contexts

Get Into It


Review: The City We Became

In her latest novel, Jemisin literalizes many of the things we’ve associated with cities: their oppressiveness, their dynamism, their heartlessness, their comfort, their wrongness, their rightness, but also the idea that a city’s most fundamental components are the people in them. It is an ironic reification of the maxim that good worldbuilding is not so much about the world as it is about the people moving through it.

N. K. Jemisin in conversation with W. Kamau Bell

N. K. Jemisin in conversation with Neil Gaiman

From the Office of Global Inclusion @ NYU

Related media, events or reading materials from NYU’s Office of Global Inclusion, the official Book Club Co-Sponsor

Saidiya Hartman

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Close Reading

I’ll starve to death someday, or freeze some winter night, or catch something that rots me away until the hospitals have to take me, even without money or an address. But I’ll sing and paint and dance and fuck and cry the city before I’m done, because it’s mine. It’s fucking mine. (7)

Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn. Duh, right? Everyone who’s visited a real city feels that, one way or another. All those rural people who hate cities are afraid of something legit; cities really are different. (7)

The hissing air is eclipsed by the shouted road rage of hundreds of mouths. As he opens his mouth to shout with the, his cry is delight and the ecstasy of suddenly knowing that he isn’t an interloper. The city needs newcomers! He belongs here as much as anyone born and bred to its streets, because anyone who wants to be of New York can be! He is no tourist, exploiting and gawking and giving nothing but money back. He lives here now. That makes all the difference in the world. (47)

“Like science fiction?… The many-worlds interpretation? Quantum physics? Is that what we’re talking about?” “Eh, if it wasn’t on Star Trek, I don’t know.” (165)

And somewhere between the third floor and the fourth, where Padmini lives in Aishwarya’ s place, Manny gets it. This is just one building amid thousands in Jackson Heights–but here, in this four-story walk-up, is a microcosm of Queens itself. People, cultures, moving in and forming communities and moving on, endlessly. (194)

Belonging is as quintessential to Staten Island as toughness is to the Bronx and starting over is to Queens and weathering change is to Brooklyn. (409)