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Open City: A Novel Paperback – January 17, 2012
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"The Lost Girls of Devon" by Barbara O'Neal
From the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids comes a story of four generations of women grappling with family betrayals and long-buried secrets. | Learn more
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Winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a distinguished first book of fiction
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
"Reminiscent of the works of W.G. Sebald, this dreamy, incantatory debut was the most beautiful novel I read this year—the kind of book that remains on your nightstand long after you finish so that you can continue dipping in occasionally as a nighttime consolation." –Ruth Franklin, The New Republic
"A psychological hand grenade." –Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic, Best Books I Read This Year
“A meditative and startlingly clear-eyed first novel.” –Newsweek/Daily Beast Writers’ Favorite Books 2011
"This year, literary discovery came, for me, in the form of Teju Cole’s debut novel, Open City, a deceptively meandering first-person narrative about a Nigerian psychiatry resident in New York. The bonhomous flâneur who strolls Manhattan from top to bottom, reveals, in the course of his walking meditations, both more about the city and about himself than we – or indeed he – could possibly anticipate. Cole writes beautifully; his protagonist is unique; and his novel, utterly thrilling." –Clare Messud in the Globe and Mail
“On the surface, the story of a young, foreign psychiatry resident in post-9/11 New York City who searches for the soul of the city by losing himself in extended strolls around teeming Manhattan. But it's really a story about a lost nation struggling to regain a sense of direction after that shattering, disorienting day 10 years ago. A quiet, lyrical and profound piece of writing.” –Seattle Times, 32 of the Year’s Best Books
“[Open City is] lean and mean and bristles with intelligence. The multi-culti characters and streets of New York are sharply observed and feel just right…Toward the end, there’s a poignant, unexpected scene in a tailor’s shop that’s an absolute knockout.” –Jessica Hagedorn, author of Toxicology in Salon.com “Writers choose their favorite books of 2011”
“I couldn't stop reading Teju Cole's debut novel and was blown away by his ability to capture the human psyche with such beautiful yet subtle prose.” –Slate.com, Best Books of 2011
“An unusual accomplishment, ‘Open City’ is a precise and poetic meditation on love, race, identity, friendship, memory, dislocation and Manhattan bird life.” –The Economist, 2011 Books of the Year
“The most interesting new writer I encountered this year.” –Books and Culture, Favorite Books of 2011
"A Sebaldesque wander through New York." –The Guardian, Best Books of the Year
“An indelible debut novel. Does precisely what literature should do: it brings together thoughts and beliefs, and blurs borders…A compassionate and masterly work.” – The New York Times Book Review
“The cool, concise prose of Open City draws you in more quietly, then breaks your heart. Who knew that taking a long walk in Manhattan could be so profound?” –Jessica Hagedorn, author of Toxicology in New York Magazine
“[Teju Cole] has a phenomenal voice…prodigious talent, beautiful language.” – WNYC’s The Takeaway
“Beautiful, subtle, and finally, original…What moves the prose forward is the prose—the desire to write, to defeat solitude by writing. Cole has made his novel as close to a diary as a novel can get, with room for reflection, autobiography, stasis, and repetition. This is extremely difficult, and many accomplished novelists would botch it, since a sure hand is needed to make the writer’s careful stitching look like a thread merely being followed for its own sake. Mysteriously, wonderfully, Cole does not botch it.” – James Wood, The New Yorker
“Nothing escapes Julius, the narrator of Teju Cole’s excellent debut novel…In Cole’s intelligent, finely observed portrait, Julius drifts through cities on three continents, repeatedly drawn into conversation with solitary souls like him: people struggling with the emotional rift of having multiple homelands but no home.”-- GQ
“A complicated portrait of a narrator whose silences speak as loudly as his words—all articulated in an effortlessly elegant prose…Teju Cole has achieved, in this book, a rare balance. He captures life’s urgent banality, and he captures, too, the ways in which the greater subjects glimmer darkly in the interstices.”— The New York Review of Books
“The most thoughtful and provocative debut I’ve read in a long time. The best first novel of 2011.” – The Daily Beast
“In another novel the city would serve as a mere setting. Cole, though, all but foists it on us in case we might be tempted to narrow our view or even look away.”-- New York Daily News
“Masterful.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“Intelligent and panoramic…engaged with the world in a rare and refreshing way.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One of the most intriguing novels you’ll likely read…the alienated but sophisticated viewpoint is oddly poignant and compelling…reads like Camus’s L’etranger.”—Library Journal
“Unique and pensive.”-- Booklist
“Open City is a meditation on history and culture, identity and solitude. The soft, exquisite rhythms of its prose, the display of sensibility, the lucid intelligence, make it a novel to savor and treasure.”
—Colm Tóibín, author of The Master and Brooklyn
“The pages of Open City unfold with the tempo of a profound, contemplative walk through layers of histories and their posthumous excavations. The juxtaposition of encounters, seen through the eyes of a knowing flâneur, surface and then dissolve like a palimpsest composed, outside of time, by a brilliant master.”
—Rawi Hage, author of De Niro’s Game, winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
“A gorgeous, crystalline, and cumulative investigation of memory, identity, and erasure. It gathers its power inexorably, page by page, and ultimately reveals itself as nothing less than a searing tour de force. Teju Cole might just be a W. G. Sebald for the twenty-first century.”
—Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector
"If Baudelaire was a young African, wandering the streets of contemporary New York, this is the book he’d write. A melancholy, beautiful meditation on modern urban life, it has echoes of W.G. Sebald and Walter Benjamin and reveals Teju Cole as one of a talented new generation of global writers, at home in the world.”-- Hari Kunzru
“A reader feels the density of [Julius’s] mind but also the fragility of his identity.” – Los Angeles Times
“Magnificent…the trip is as meaningful as the destination. Open City is a remarkably resonant feat of prose.” – The Seattle Times
“A quiet novel that somehow manages to scream.” – The Boston Globe
“Quietly powerful.” – O: The Oprah Magazine
“My favourite novel of the year, dreamlike and meandering, like the best of W G Sebald.” –Alain de Botton, The New Statesman
“[A] remarkable and highly accomplished first novel. . . . exquisitely composed. . . .I have read it twice, and I still cannot pin it down to a theme or a type. At once symbolical and precise, part fiction, part reportage or memoir, it is beyond category.” –Jan Morris, The Independent
About the Author
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- ISBN-10 : 0812980093
- Paperback : 259 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812980097
- Product Dimensions : 5.16 x 0.63 x 7.99 inches
- Publisher : Random House Trade Paperbacks; 1st Edition (January 17, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #220,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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and, yet, it is at the end of this first-person confession, this open-ended narrative, to which the moral of the story is ‘life goes on’, that the form becomes evident. for not until the end can one know that there is no intended listener for julius, that the story stands as a personal undated journal by a man who spends quite a bit of time by himself, when he isn’t working, reading philosophy, essays, histories and european literature, attending non-mainstream movies, symphonic concerts, and art galleries and photography exhibitions by himself. an aesthete, a bit of a cosmopolitan.
a long-distance relationship falls apart. by chance, on a manhattan street, he is recognized by the sister of a friend he knew in nigeria. she is in a new york biracial relationship. julius doesn’t appear to be looking for a relationship or bothered by sexual desire. he is comfortable as a solitude. he has friends in manhattan, but not close friends, and no romantic interests.
during his walks, his color and african features attract the attention of black immigrants from africa and island countries, seeking camaraderie with him, from which julius maintains distance, while lending an ear to the stories of the immigrants who escaped violence, poverty, and oppression, and their struggle to succeed in the united states.
in brussels, which became an ‘open city’ during world war 2, he meets university educated muslim immigrants who, unlike their counterparts in the united states, have no gratitude for their host country, express their displeasure for western culture, their experiences as immigrants, and tolerance for forms of islamic rule which would raise eyebrows if openly discussed in many western countries, even in this novel’s pre-911 setting.
subtle queasiness pervades cole’s text, giving rise to the disturbing suspicion that julius is using his skills as a psychiatrist to cope for the lack of a fuller emotional and social life and avoidance of his own bi-racial history; that his predilection for the arts, juxtaposed against the social violence he encounters within the world through experience, media, and conversation, functions for him in a manner similar to how personal violence functioned for justin bateman in bret easton ellis’ American Psycho. credit cole’s control of tension for how Open City becomes counter-story to ellis’ novel, both novels exploring existential freedom within the city, questioning who are the free, and by what act of daring their freedom is won or given and maintained.
the important difference between the two novels is the inclusion of black immigrants seeking sanctuary in open cities. a new addition to existential literature of violence.
We see the world through the eyes of a man of mixed race whose heritage seems to remain a problem he is unable to solve. We
read the description of a brutal attack he is subjected to by two young men. His reaction seems strangely muted, as are many of the feelings in the book. At one point he says "..sometimes it is hard to shake the feeling that ...there really is an epidemic of sorrow sweeping our world, the full brunt of which is being borne, for now, by only a luckless few." Perhaps the author and his main character are among them. He is also confronted with the accusation of a long ago rape but an African woman he had forgotten. Here again, he shows little reaction. Perhaps his tendency is to intellectualize, or aesthetisize. We don't learn enough.
Some critics here and elsewhere take Cole to task for lacking a plot. True, but I never missed it. The book is interesting and soulful enough to do without it. The main character, Julius, is a resident in psychiatry. There are a few comments about his patients, about psychology generally. All of them are interesting but strangely undeveloped for man in this profession. But he has one great passage about a new head of the psychiatry department that all of us in the profession of psychotherapy should take to heart. He says: "And it was especially satisfying to me, with my stubbornly held and somewhat naive vision, as I approaches the end of my training, of what psychiatry really ought to be about: provisional, hesitant, and as kind as possible." (Amen!)
There is much more, including a glowing account of attending a Mahler concert that is likely to stir a desire in most readers to listen to the music he names, whether they have heard it before or not. That's deep and powerful writing.
The book is like a tapas meal one wants more of, but also some tastes that are only hinted at. There is a wish for more of these
Top reviews from other countries
The first thing that strikes you is the evocative nature of the writing - I was hooked in the early paragraphs. On first impressions what we seem to be faced with is a description of the well-written wanderings of an individual through New York. First impressions can be very deceptive. There's no real plot, at least there kind of is but it's a weak one (find grandmother) - if you want the heavily plotted novel with lots of explosions, "characters" and thrills then read Eric van Lustbader, Dan Brown, or Robert Ludlum - not this. This book is far more subtle than that.
There are so many aspects to this novel. At times you feel like the character is moving through a living body, going down into the intestines of the city and popping up in various different locations, which are magically described. There are concepts that arise throughout such as simulacrum, edifice, microcosms...I could go on...
Things move languidly to two big reveals, the first of which most people will get and is somewhat shocking. I'm not sure everyone will get the second big reveal. The ending is absolutely mind-blowing. Me reading: uhhmmm, why is he telling me this, WHAT THE?, OMG I just realized! At the abrupt end you realize the significance of so many details and events that you questioned the importance of at the time. I wanted to go back through the novel immediately with a notebook and reestablish the chronology - but I didn't - in some ways that would spoils things.
There are various references to Italo Calvino throughout, and I can now see that probably isn't an accident.
Kundera said in "The Art of the Novel" that the greatest novels say something that can't be said in any other way, and I think this novel probably ticks that box. It's hard to see how else this would be pulled off. Amazing.
I don't often read novels, but loved Teju Cole's other book of essays: Known and Strange Things, so this was on my list for a while - absolutely glad I read it. For me, one of the best novels I've ever read, and I will be mulling it over for weeks to come.
El libro en sí carece de un argumento novelístico al uso. Julius, un nigeriano emigrado a EEUU, pasea por New York, donde reside y trabaja como psiquiatra.
Y eso es el libro: los paseos de Julius, sus reflexiones sobre lo que ve. En estas reflexiones mezcla el tiempo pasado de la cultura estadounidense, la europea y la africana, que confluyen en esa gran urbe que es Nueva York.
Sobre todo, Open City es un libro sobre el tiempo, la memoria y la identidad.
La memoria, y la supresión deliberada o no de algún recuerdo, serán fundamentales en este libro que no puedo dejar de recomendar.