chadwick, January 04, 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.