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Open City: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 8, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Possibly the only negative thing to say about Cole's intelligent and panoramic first novel is that it is a more generous account of the recent past than the era deserves. America's standing in the world is never far from the restless thoughts of psychiatry resident Julius, a Nigerian immigrant who wanders Manhattan, pondering everything from Goya and the novels of J.M. Coetzee to the bankruptcy of Tower Records and the rise of the bedbug epidemic. In other words, it is an ongoing reverie in the tradition of W.G. Sebald or Nicholson Baker, but with the welcome interruptions of the friends and strangers Julius meets as he wanders Penn Station, the Upper West Side, and Brussels during a short holiday, and amid discussions of Alexander Hamilton, black identity, and the far left--a truly American novel emerges. Julius pines over a recent ex, mourns the death of a friend, goes to movies, concerts, and museums, but above all he ruminates, and the picture of a mind that emerges in lieu of a plot is fascinating, as it is engaged with the world in a rare and refreshing way. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Nigerian immigrant Julius, a young graduate student studying psychiatry in New York City, has recently broken up with his girlfriend and spends most of his time dreamily walking around Manhattan. The majority of Open City centers on Julius’ inner thoughts as he rambles throughout the city, painting scenes of both what occurs around him and past events that he can’t help but dwell on. For reasons not altogether clear, Julius’ walks turn into worldwide travel, and he flies first to Europe, where he has an unplanned one-night stand and makes some interesting friends, then to Nigeria, and finally back to New York City. Along the way, he meets many people and often has long discussions with them about philosophy and politics. Brought up in a military school, he seems to welcome these conversations. Upon returning to New York, he meets a young Nigerian woman who profoundly changes the way he sees himself. Readers who enjoy stream-of-consciousness narratives and fiction infused with politics will find this unique and pensive book a charming read. --Julie Hunt

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (February 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781400068098
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068098
  • ASIN: 1400068096
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By N. D. Horowitz on April 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I briefly worked with Teju Cole eleven years ago. At the time, I was a little awed by how eloquent he was: he spoke like he had already written five or six books. So I wasn't surprised to learn, recently, that he had published a book, or that it was getting good 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.
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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Jean Morris on February 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Open City is an exceptional novel.

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.
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82 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Mona D. on February 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
New Yorkers are often heard to say that they have not yet been to Ellis Island or taken a walk to the Cloisters. Teju Cole's Open City nudges us out of our complacency and opens our eyes to everyday life, the life that passes us by while we rush around. This book makes us pause, look around, think of the people past and present who have viewed these same city streets. A well thought out and wonderfully written prose pulls you into a year of Julius's life: his sensitivity to what goes on in another's life, his failure to fully reckon with his own delusions. As other reviewers have said, this book is really not for readers in a hurry. In the midst of our hectic life, Open City has given us a reason to slow down and add a few more years to our years. Nicely done, Mr. Cole.
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60 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Village Green on April 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Julius, a New York City psychiatry intern in his early 30s, is an African with a white German mother and black Nigerian father. Racism, politics, mental states, music and death are the dominant themes of Open City, with death a constant chord in this monotone chant.

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.
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