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Open City (2011)

by Teju Cole

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1,451838,765 (3.65)85
Feeling adrift after ending a relationship, Julius, a young Nigerian doctor living in New York, takes long walks through the city while listening to the stories of fellow immigrants until a shattering truth is revealed.

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English (76)  Dutch (4)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All languages (83)
Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
I found it to be well-written, but struggled the whole way through. Maybe the style/genre isn't for me. ( )
  peterbmacd | May 17, 2020 |
Another unique character I've stumbled on lately - a psychiatrist from Nigeria, living in NYC post-9/11. I find it so sad Julius feels so isolated -- "isolation" seems to have another meaning because he lives in NYC and while wandering around the city he often runs into friends and visits other friends. This even seems to be the plot of the book. It must be heartbreaking to be a psychiatrist who feels so isolated. I thought it was interesting that Coetzee's book 'Elizabeth Costello' was mentioned a couple times. Unlike 'Elizabeth Costello' which focuses on telling the story through many public speaking events, this book is very internal, when Julius isn't speaking with other people one on one. No matter the situation, he feels isolated. Even when he recalls successfully saving a drowning boy when he was a child, the most memorable part for him is "the sensation of being all alone in the water" as he is swimming towards the boy. There is much that Julius is avoiding. I hesitate to even call him an unreliable narrator, as he might not even know he is being unreliable. Julius has many tangents while wandering around NYC and Brussels. I do like meandering novels, but the pieces don't seem to fit for me here. There are some memorable images, especially of birds. With many NYC streets constantly being mentioned, and me not knowing them, my attention was probably drifting. But maybe that is what Julius is doing to the reader, trying to distract the reader and even himself with misdirects. I can appreciate a meandering novel if most sentences are phenomenal on their own, Walker Percy's 'The Moviegoer' comes to mind. This book reminded me of Walker Percy's excellent 'The Moviegoer' so much, that I revisited the underlined sentences. Flipping through The Moviegoer again, I notice a part in a cemetery looking like a city. In Open City, as Julius is flying above NYC, the city looks like a giant graveyard. Not sure if this is a coincidence or if Cole is a fan of Walker. But Julius remains mysterious and isolated from even the reader. I can see Cole's purpose for writing this way, but I'm not sure if that makes for an effective narrative. As Julius was so distant, I was distant from the book. ( )
  booklove2 | Nov 5, 2019 |
Open City is stream-of-consciousness style novel that follows a Nigerian man who is in New York for a psychiatry residency. The parts where he wanders the city are good, but apart from that I had a hard time following his train of thought. It may have been my reading mood as I’ve liked other stream-of-consciousness books. ( )
  strandbooks | Oct 30, 2019 |
An odd, compelling read. On the face of it, this is the diary of someone who walks around New York a lot, has some moderately interesting friends and very small adventures, but is worth reading because he himself is interesting and erudite and loves making connections between things. In other words, it's a lot like reading Cole's nonfiction, and for a lot of the book I couldn't shake the feeling that the narrator was just the author's mouthpiece. Which is alright--after all it was Cole's nonfiction that got me interested in reading his novel in the first place--but if that were all there was to it I don't think it would have held my attention over 200 pages.

What made this book special for me was its distillation of a very particular feeling: that of having a lovely time going about my business, while always conscious of the horror of the world around me. I do see this in Cole's nonfiction, but there's something about letting it ebb and flow through a much longer, more rambling work than allows it get much more powerful, and in the last few chapters it becomes completely crushing. ( )
  eldang | Sep 18, 2019 |
Probably a book of most interest to those who have lived in a big city in general, or in NYC in particular who will recognize the stimulation that the variety of sights, sounds and events provoke - the reflection of the present, and the connection to older memories.

The rhythms of NYC provide the backdrop for the musings of Julius, a young Nigerian resident doctor in psychiatry at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He is alone in the city, his girlfriend having left him for California. As he roams, he encounters myriad "small stories all over the city..." - a German man at photography exhibition talks about misspelling of newspaper name and childhood in Germany; a young Jewish couple project horror at seeing picture of Goebbels; in a park, he recognizes diversity - Chinese dancers, a man reading el Diario and Himself, a Nigerian, all enjoying the sme space; and amazement that there are places predominantly, or exclusively white -a concert at Carnegie Hall.

One thought leads to another ... and another. The Negro Burial Ground provokes thoughts from his boyhood in Nigeria of his father's death and burial, and then those remembrances get confused with the images of burial in paintings by El Greco and Courbet.

Events in the present bring memories of his past - rain in Brussels recalls the three day rain in Lagos when he was a boy; a NYC construction scaffold that resembles a lynching reminds him of his discipline at military school in Nigeria.

Walking the streets, observing, having intellectual conversations - these excite him more than his profession. Is it because he has basically no family, or that he is searching for a purpose? Or is he filling his time? We can't be sure. However, without the loose trapping of the narrative, this could be a book of short essays.
( )
  steller0707 | Aug 25, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
Want to write a breakout first novel? The conventional wisdom says ingratiate yourself (Everything Is Illuminated), grab the reader by the lapels (The Lovely Bones), or put on an antic show (Special Topics in Calamity Physics). Teju Cole's disquietingly powerful debut Open City does none of the above. It's light on plot. It's exquisitely written, but quiet; the sentences don't call attention to themselves. The narrator, a Nigerian psychiatry student, is emotionally distant, ruminative, and intellectual. His account of a year spent walking around New York, encountering immigrants of all kinds, listening to their stories and recalling his own African boyhood, achieves its resonance obliquely, through inference—meaning you have to pay attention. But Open City is worth the effort.

Immigration and exile are not new literary subjects (Salman Rushdie, Chang Rae-Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri), but Cole's treatment of them has a quiet clarity and surprising force. Will Open City find a breakout audience? I wonder, given its slow pace and darkness of its theme. Still, I hope so; it's the most thoughtful and provocative debut I've read in a long time.
Teju Cole’s Open City is neither a melodrama, nor is it about a city that has technically been declared "open" during wartime. The novel is set in New York City, no more than a couple of years ago, and narrated by a Nigerian psychiatrist on a research fellowship. Throughout the novel, the psychiatrist, Julius, wanders the streets of the city taking careful note of everything he sees, and everyone with whom he interacts. His observations are recorded in beautifully clear prose with the precision of a clinician, or at least the way one might wish to imagine the precision of a clinician. The descriptions of the cityscape around him are interspersed with memories of his boyhood in Nigeria. His time in New York is interrupted by a trip to Brussels which Julius takes using up his entire four week vacation time, in the vague, unrealized hope of somehow encountering his grandmother there. He is, however, unsure as to whether she is still alive, or even if she lives there at all. Without a clear plan to find her, he continues his habit of wandering, observing, interacting, recording.
added by kidzdoc | editBookslut, Daisy Rockwell (Feb 1, 2011)

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'Death is a perfection of the eye' (Part 1)
'I have searched myself' (Part 2)
for Karen
and for Wah-Ming and Beth
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And so when I began to go on evening walks last fall, I found Morningside Heights an easy place from which to set out into the city.
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Jeder Mensch muss sich unter bestimmten Bedingungen als Sollwert der Normalität setzen und davon ausgehen, dass seine Psyche für ihn selbst nicht undurchschaubar ist, nicht undurchschaubar sein kann. Vielleicht verstehen wir das unter geistiger Gesundheit: dass wir uns selbst, so verschroben wir uns auch finden mögen, niemals als die Bösewichte unserer eigenen Geschichte wahrnehmen.
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