Friday, February 17, 2012

OPEN CITY by Teju Cole

Open City is the story of Julius, a psychiatry fellow in New York City who was raised by a German mother and a Nigerian father.  It’s not quite right to call the book his story:  it feels more like his diary, describing his evening walks throughout New York, his travels, his conversations with his friends and acquaintances, and, as well, memories of his past.

I’m typically drawn to books with rollicking plots, so this was a bit of a switch for me:  a switch back to the sorts of things I read in college.  So what can I say about Open City? I enjoyed the first half because I felt like I was listening in on Julius’s interesting conversations with Professor Saito, his college English professor, and his friends.  I was interested in the book through Julius’s month-long trip to Brussels, where he befriends a Moroccan graduate student named Farouq, and they have a number of discussions about identity and politics.

After the Brussels, episode, I grew a bit bored.  I wanted more than interesting conversations about music, politics, war, dying, history, and philosophy.  Julius made an interesting admission near the end of the book that everyone sees himself or herself as a hero of their life, never as a villain, which was an interesting direction for the book to take (a conversation with an old friend from home revealed a horrible accusation about his past), but nothing really happened after that thought.

My takeaway:  it’s fiction that reads like nonfiction, specifically takes on history, race, philosophy, and Mahler’s music.  I think it’s something best read in small doses and without expecting a narrative arc.  I, however, prefer my meditations on being a multi-racial New Yorker with a bit more plot.

Open City by Teju Cole is finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle award for fiction, and it was recently released as a trade paperback. 

OPEN CITY by Teju Cole
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Trade paperback release date:  January 17, 2012
Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

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