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Open City


Open City Cover

ISBN13: 9781400068098
ISBN10: 1400068096
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chadwick, January 4, 2013 (view all comments by chadwick)
As I was finishing Open City by Teju Cole, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize was announced with no clear prize being awarded for fiction. So here in this review, I would like to nominate Open City by Teju Cole to claim the unclaimed prize. It is a long ramble of a novel that won't take you anywhere you haven't been before. In fact, the novel's protagonist, Julius, reminded me of Holden Caulfield's roaming of New York City - his visits to museums, dropping in on former teachers, and looking for where the past and present converge to create the present moment. Cole uses the city to outline the things that unite and divides us as human beings (and New Yorkers); the closing of a Tower records becomes a metaphor for the Tower of Babel, bed bugs which harass and harm us indiscriminately, and our common history. Cole has Julius muse about life that existed in New York City before it became New York City, "human beings lived here, built homes, and quarreled with their neighbors long before the Duth ever saw a business opportunity in the rich furs and timbers of the island and its calm bay. Generations rushed through the eye of the needle, and I, one of the still legible crowd, entered the subway. I wanted to find the line that connected me to my own part in these stories." Julius is an unlikeable and often flat character on the page and yet is odd fascinating in his wandering and inner musings. There is a twist towards the end of the novel, that I will not spoil here, but Julius dismissed with, "Perhaps that is what we mean by sanity: that whatever our self-admitted eccentricities might be, we are not villains of our own stories." Open City tells a complicated story, told by Julius in which he is the hero and as the reader learns to live inside his head, we learn that this doesn't necessarily mean Julius is not a villain in someone else's story. A deeply layered story that I only wish someone else I knew has read, so we could talk about how Cole pulls it off.
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Brenda Mills, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Brenda Mills)
This one really stuck with me. Beautifully written, subversive and surprising.
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John Russell, September 3, 2011 (view all comments by John Russell)
This is a wonderfully evocative portrait of New York City and of rootless migrants in the world today. "Open city" is a concept wherein a city declares to invaders that it won't defend itself as a way of avoiding worse destruction. Cole mentions Brussels' declaration of open city status in the Second World War, but the idea of open city in Cole's novel also refers to the ability or not to migrate - there are scenes revolving around immigration in New York and an extended section on immigrants in Brussels - and the often (but not always) negative reaction that natives have to newcomers. This novel is not just about the politics of globalization, however, as the narrator himself, while endlessly approached by strangers, is not fully open to himself or to the people he encounters. I've seen others describe the narrator as chilly and distant, and we are crucially exposed to this trait in his interactions with women, but I found myself relating to the narrator and for the most part immersed in his view of his world. In the end, what sticks with me are not the overarching political and personal themes, but the descriptions of the southern tip of Manhattan, Mahler's 9th, the paintings in the folk art museum, the sky. Other readers will doubtless focus more on the ideas of cosmopolitanism, aesthetics, and interpersonal politics that _Open City_ raises, but I think most will agree that Cole has created an engaging and original novel and will look forward to reading more.
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Product Details

Random House
Cole, Teju
Identity (psychology)
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.54 x 5.88 x .96 in .84 lb

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Cultural Heritage

Open City
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 272 pages Random House - English 9781400068098 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Review A Day" by , "Teju Cole's second novel builds on the promise of his first (Every Day is for the Thief, Cassava Republic, 2007). Here, as in his elegant debut, which was set largely in Lagos, Nigeria, a circumspect walker explores both the visible and invisible aspects of the cities he is drawn to. The scale of Open City, which moves from New York to Brussels to Lagos (and a Nigerian military boarding school), is greater than its more compressed predecessor though, and the central questions of what it means to live strung between past and present, geography and desire, the known and the unknowable are more richly and complicatedly posed." (Read the entire Rain Taxi review)
"Review" by , "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 savour and treasure."
"Review" by , "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 flaneur, surface and then dissolve like a palimpsest composed, outside of time, by a brilliant master." Rawi Hage, author of Cockroach and De Niro's Game, winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
"Review" by , "Open City is not a loud novel, nor a thriller, nor a nail-biter. What it is is 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."
"Review" by , "One of the most intriguing novels you'll likely read...[it] reads like Camus's The Stranger."
"Review" by , "Masterful."
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