50 pages 1 hour read

N. K. Jemisin

The City We Became

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Prologue-Chapter 2Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Prologue Summary: “See, What Had Happened Was”

An unnamed narrator stands atop a New York City building, singing to the city below, when he hears a strange sound, “something both distant and intimate singing back to me” (1).

Later, the narrator, a young homeless Black man sits in a café with Paulo who buys him breakfast and implores him to listen. He tells him something is beneath the city, and he’s seen “the growing roots, the budding teeth” (2) in the sewers.

Late at night on rooftops, the young man paints dark holes, like throats with no mouths. Through these holes, he can hear the distant sound beneath the city. A few days later, he meets Paulo again who says, “You’re hearing it” (5). He implies the narrator has an important task to accomplish: to keep the city’s spark of life alive. He will be the catalyst either for its salvation or destruction.

The narrator ruminates on the importance of cities and the impact they have. With their endless energy, their transience, and their diversity, “They make a weight on the world” (7). If they survive long enough, cities gradually take on a life of their own like pulsing, breathing entities; in turn, there are other entities that exist to devour cities.

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