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Open City: A Novel by Teju Cole
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Open City: A Novel (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Teju Cole

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8195111,095 (3.74)65
Member:deb80
Title:Open City: A Novel
Authors:Teju Cole
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2012), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library, Books Read 2012
Rating:****1/2
Tags:fiction, american, new york, nigeria, brussels, immigrants

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Open City by Teju Cole (2011)

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English (45)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
I would have liked this book if it did not include the revelation from Moji. After that point, the protagonist loses any appeal he may have had for me as a human being, not necessarily because of what he did (or may have done?) but because of his lack of reaction or empathy. To me this does not seem human, and I am left wondering whether he is a sociopath, or whether the whole story is a delusion from someone in a straitjacket (the ultimate unreliable narrator?). After that scene, the book changes from a beautifully written meditation, to a psychiatric mystery -- without enough clues to solve it.

That said, I do think the book was worth my time for the insight it provides into the mind of someone who is mentally disturbed and doesn’t realize it. Julius reminds me of someone I once knew, and his story is giving me a whole new creepy insight that I wish I didn’t have, but that might be useful as a warning or caution. ( )
  read.to.live | May 17, 2015 |
A slow burn. Almost put it down early on but his rhythm and reflections draw you in. ( )
  DavidCLDriedger | Apr 22, 2015 |
3.5 stars. Sophisticate walks around NYC with side visits to Nigeria and Belgium, meditating eruditely on his surroundings. Reminiscent of Netherland but with less invention, action, and/or characterization. ( )
  AThurman | Dec 7, 2014 |
open city n. an undefended city; spec. a city declared to be unfortified and undefended and so, by international law, exempt from enemy attack.

Julius, a Nigerian psychiatrist living in Manhattan, is Teju Cole’s humane, aesthetic, and highly observant narrator in Open City, a debut novel that has earned Cole comparisons to such heavyweights as Proust and Sebald. While Cole’s project is similar in how he explores how our surroundings shape and inform our experiences, our subjective realities, and our relationships with others, the voice here is all his own even though some of the structural arrangements follow Proust—e.g., apart from the descriptions of Vinteuil’s “little phrase,” Julius’s description in Open City of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony is perhaps the most wonderful writing on music ever written—and Julius’s various meanderings about Manhattan (and also Brussels) echo sections of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn with which I’m as yet only tangentially familiar.

The concept of the open city, which is emphasized in the novel during Julius’s visit to Brussels, is critical to Cole’s examination of how many city-dwellers thrive on feelings of safety: “We are the first humans who are completely unprepared for disaster. It is dangerous to live in a secure world.” This is especially prevalent in Julius’s post-9/11 Manhattan, and also in the many conversations he recounts—with relatives, with strangers, with patients, with Al-Qaeda sympathizers, with colleagues, with neighbors—that blend the Japanese-American internment camps of WWII, the Nazi occupation, the Vietnam War, and other domestic and global conflicts in order to consider how these relate to collective and individual cultural identities, especially at the level of dislocation and fracture, poised between living and dying: “To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.”

Cole’s salient prose takes in the breadth of human experience while living in a city whose ever-changing architecture, public spaces, crowds, and landscapes go unexamined by so many who live there. By contrast, because he is an outsider, Julius takes in everything, and on his walks through the city he is as able to observe a car accident, relate being mugged, offer the history of beached whales and birds dazed and dead by the Statue of Liberty’s torch as intrinsic (but often forgotten) parts of New York City’s narrative, and also reflect on the emotional experiences of a life lived straddling two very different worlds—that of Nigeria and that of Manhattan, that of childhood and that of adulthood, that of becoming and that of still becoming, only more consciously so. Just as the city has depths and hidden stories (“What Lenape paths lay buried beneath the rubble? The site was a palimpsest, as was all the city, written, erased, rewritten”), so, too, do individuals, and Julius’s narrative is as much about coming to terms with his adopted city as it is with himself: “I wanted to find the line that connected me to my own part in these stories” as it is “unimaginable how many small stories people all over this city carried around with them.”

Open City is a profound meditation on how one should live one’s life with eyes wide open, taking in the inconsequential and relishing it for how it will later attach itself to our own subjective narrative, both in terms of how we view our lives looking back in time and also how we morph and change along with the cities we call our homes. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
open city n. an undefended city; spec. a city declared to be unfortified and undefended and so, by international law, exempt from enemy attack.

Julius, a Nigerian psychiatrist living in Manhattan, is Teju Cole’s humane, aesthetic, and highly observant narrator in Open City, a debut novel that has earned Cole comparisons to such heavyweights as Proust and Sebald. While Cole’s project is similar in how he explores how our surroundings shape and inform our experiences, our subjective realities, and our relationships with others, the voice here is all his own even though some of the structural arrangements follow Proust—e.g., apart from the descriptions of Vinteuil’s “little phrase,” Julius’s description in Open City of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony is perhaps the most wonderful writing on music ever written—and Julius’s various meanderings about Manhattan (and also Brussels) echo sections of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn with which I’m as yet only tangentially familiar.

The concept of the open city, which is emphasized in the novel during Julius’s visit to Brussels, is critical to Cole’s examination of how many city-dwellers thrive on feelings of safety: “We are the first humans who are completely unprepared for disaster. It is dangerous to live in a secure world.” This is especially prevalent in Julius’s post-9/11 Manhattan, and also in the many conversations he recounts—with relatives, with strangers, with patients, with Al-Qaeda sympathizers, with colleagues, with neighbors—that blend the Japanese-American internment camps of WWII, the Nazi occupation, the Vietnam War, and other domestic and global conflicts in order to consider how these relate to collective and individual cultural identities, especially at the level of dislocation and fracture, poised between living and dying: “To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.”

Cole’s salient prose takes in the breadth of human experience while living in a city whose ever-changing architecture, public spaces, crowds, and landscapes go unexamined by so many who live there. By contrast, because he is an outsider, Julius takes in everything, and on his walks through the city he is as able to observe a car accident, relate being mugged, offer the history of beached whales and birds dazed and dead by the Statue of Liberty’s torch as intrinsic (but often forgotten) parts of New York City’s narrative, and also reflect on the emotional experiences of a life lived straddling two very different worlds—that of Nigeria and that of Manhattan, that of childhood and that of adulthood, that of becoming and that of still becoming, only more consciously so. Just as the city has depths and hidden stories (“What Lenape paths lay buried beneath the rubble? The site was a palimpsest, as was all the city, written, erased, rewritten”), so, too, do individuals, and Julius’s narrative is as much about coming to terms with his adopted city as it is with himself: “I wanted to find the line that connected me to my own part in these stories” as it is “unimaginable how many small stories people all over this city carried around with them.”

Open City is a profound meditation on how one should live one’s life with eyes wide open, taking in the inconsequential and relishing it for how it will later attach itself to our own subjective narrative, both in terms of how we view our lives looking back in time and also how we morph and change along with the cities we call our homes. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (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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Epigraph
'Death is a perfection of the eye' (Part 1)
'I have searched myself' (Part 2)
Dedication
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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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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