50 pages 1 hour read

N. K. Jemisin

The City We Became

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Important Quotes

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“I don’t stink, but these people can smell anybody without a trust fund from a mile away.” 


(Prologue, Page 2)

As Jemisin introduces her nameless protagonist, the homeless man who will become the primary avatar of New York City, she dispenses with any illusions that New York is an equitable city. Sitting in a coffee shop with Paulo, he experiences New York as a mostly White, gated community that tolerates no intruders, especially Black ones. His assumption of “trust fund[s]” implies that “these people” are privileged and undeserving of wealth that was given to them without having been earned.

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“I’m not too tired to imagine myself as nothing, beneath notice, not even worth beating for pleasure.” 


(Prologue, Page 5)

As with the suspicious Whites in the coffee shop, Jemisin pulls no punches about New York City cops. The primary avatar sees every cop as a sadist, looking only to protect the interests of White New Yorkers while taking pleasure in administering punishment for no reason in particular. Jemisin says in her acknowledgments, “I love hip-hop and fear cops because of New York” (437). Good and fair cops obviously exist, but Jemisin seeks to give her readers a glimpse of a world through the eyes of someone whose experience creates a justifiable paranoia.

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“Manny’s been in New York for less than an hour and yet he knows, he knows, that cities are organic, dynamic systems. They are built to incorporate newness.”


(Chapter 1, Page 46)

Jemisin’s novel is as much about the character and soul of cities as it is about their human counterparts. Cities, in her mind, are living, breathing entities; they are born, they live, and they die.

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