In Totem, Gregory Pardlo investigates the meaning of representation—what it means to shoulder the weight of cultural, racial and literary expectations, and its costs. Pardlo’s obsession is the impossibility of fully capturing the image, and the larger question of the role of the New World writer and his relationship to history, marginalization and the politics of representation. How does one defy the tradition that he loves? Pardlo’s choice is to expand it, to take his cues from jazz musicians, those incorrigible reinventors and reshapers of meaning and expectation. Totem is an assured debut by a writer who claims a wider territory—the world beyond the Bantu Stands of "the urban"—a writer who knows it, who understands it and loves it, and that is why he defies it, to keep it honest, to keep it whole.