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Open City: A Novel Paperback – January 17, 2012
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Top Customer Reviews
I want to take an angle that I haven't seen taken yet, and talk about what one can learn from Open City. Books are teachings, even when they're fictional. Authors take the knowledge they have acquired and share it with the public, like teachers do. Sometimes it's facts; sometimes it's subtler stuff like perceptions, analyses and open questions.
1. Race. (Whatever that is.) The book made me feel like I was understanding race better. Many of the characters are also involved in thinking about race.
2. Compassion. Many of the characters, including the narrator, are engaged in the narratives of other individuals and groups. There's a sense that it's possible for each of us to go beyond our own tribal obsessions. In this way, the book offers an antidote to identity politics. This is not a book about the Holocaust, but it's deeply engaged with many forms of human suffering, and it contains a passage about the Holocaust that was, at least to me, remarkably insightful and moving, while remaining, like most of the book, calm and understated.
3. History. The book analyzes New York as a palimpsest containing traces of all that has happened before. If you're not already an expert, and maybe if you are, you'll learn plenty of new things about the city.
4. Classical music. Ditto. If you don't want to listen to Mahler by the end of the book, there might be something wrong with you.
5. Art history. Ditto. Note that Cole studied art history.Read more ›
Open City begins with Julius taking long walks around New York City. With elegant descriptions and historic data, it gives a refreshing look at parts of the city seen hundreds of times, as well as those avoided or rarely seen. And as a reader and great walker, it drew me in immediately.
I thought I would love this book because Teju Cole is so wonderfully descriptive about what he sees around him, but soon I felt estranged from this character. He is one-dimensional. A ghost (not literally) who expresses little, feels little, is not particularly involved with his own life. He does not attach to anyone or anything deeply. It is a surface life, this camera of a person who takes many pictures but just snaps and keeps walking. Even Julius's own horrid actions are slipped over without attachment or concern.
Cole brings up racism and politics and death, but he is like a tour guide: On your left is where this horrible event occurred; on your right we see this injustice. There's no there, there.
I think Cole has literary skill--and if he intended to portray emptiness and alienation, he has done that well. But the themes just don't feel justified.
Its intense, detailed and specific narrative, unravelling inside the mind of one man, Julius - a young Nigerian-German doctor completing his residency in psychiatry in a New York hospital - brings the city of new York hauntingly to life in a different, slower, deeper way from anything I've ever read. From this detail and specificity, it reaches out widely to the global flows of our fluxing, ungraspable world, personified by the various immigrants and asylum seekers he encounters. It reaches in, too, to touch the reader's mind and senses and emotions. For this restrained, intellectual voice, you realise, is piercingly sensitive - it gets to you!
This is not one for the fan of plot-heavy pageturners, perhaps. Julius spends much time alone, walks a lot and thinks a lot, about art and memory and history. He sees a lot, as loners sometimes do, and has strange, surprising, significant encounters, often with other immigrants, as loners sometimes do.
His story, perhaps, goes nowhere much. And yet, in his actual journey to Brussels, his journeys of memory back to Nigeria, and in the mouths and memories of those he meets from far-flung places, it goes to Africa, to Europe... and to places in the heart.
It travels too, through his observations and reflections, in time, political and cultural history. Full of seeming digressions, it digresses in fact not at all, but is a seamless deepening through detail of the whole picture and atmosphere of today's global city.
And it goes to a sharp inner twist that you will not forget.
It's a book to love, and to reread many times.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A marvellous book pretty well written, in a delicated tone, and with plenty of references to art, classic music, history and the best of all to Manhattan streets. Read morePublished 20 days ago by 2666
I didn't really connect with the protagonist, but the novel was enjoyable.Published 1 month ago by A. Rich.
A tale of cultural disorientation and seeking by a young medical student from a multi-national background. Wallows a bit, but that is sort of the point.Published 1 month ago by Ha1r
This book was disappointing. The protagonist is a psychiatry resident who walks the streets of New York and muses on philosophical subjects. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Claire
This book is beautifully written, however it is not plot-driven or character-driven.
To summarize: this book is about a young man who walks around NYC a great deal, and... Read more
Mr. Cole has produced an extremely erudite, yet very readable story. He wanders effortlessly over several fields of widely different subjects, making each one fascinating and... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Yvonne Bernardo
If you happen to be into walking, you will appreciate this story. To say it is a novel in the traditional sense is a stretch. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Virginia Kast