three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
By: 
Teju Cole
user_rating: 
0

A-Open City.epsNigerian author Teju Cole has lived in the United States for nearly two decades. He is a professional historian and photographer, as well as the author of the novella, Every Day is for the Thief (2007). Open City is his debut full-length novel.

The Story: In the fall of 2006, Julius, a young, stoic doctor, is completing a psychiatric residency at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Born in Lagos to a Nigerian father and a German mother, Julius has always felt between worlds. As a form of therapy from a recent breakup with a girlfriend, Julius wanders the streets, visiting parks, museums, concerts, and long-forgotten monuments throughout Manhattan. As Julius discovers each unique, vibrant neighborhood, he considers history, politics, race, and what it means to be a foreigner in post-9/11 America.
Random House. 259 pages. $25. ISBN: 9781400068098

Dover Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]s plotless as it is consuming. ... That 259 pages can yield so much to think about and to feel is clearly one of this book's remarkable attributes." Rae Francoeur

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"With every anecdote, with each overlap, Cole lucidly builds a compassionate and masterly work engaged more with questions than with answers regarding some of the biggest issues of our time: migration, moral accountability and our tenuous tolerance of one another's differences. ... Cole's writing is assured, his ideas are well developed, and his imagery is delicious." Miguel Syjuco

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[M]agnificent and shattering. ... But like a lot of difficult journeys in life, the trip is as meaningful as the destination. Open City is a remarkably resonant feat of prose." Tyrone Beason

Onion AV Club 3.5 of 5 Stars
"All the unbroken high-mindedness can be difficult to keep up with, but it's worth it. ... Unconvincing twist aside, Open City is lucidly detached in a manner that needs no apologies." Vadim Rizov

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The reader will wonder near the novel's end whether Julius himself might benefit from becoming the subject of his professional practice. ... Julius seems, like the world around him, to be in a state of psychological paralysis, unaffected by historical and contemporary atrocities." Joseph Peschel

Critical Summary

The Seattle Times described Open City as "a novel in the loosest sense"--and meant it as a compliment. Most critics found Cole's debut to be wise, honest, and illuminating, but they also acknowledged it is not for everyone. Those who prefer a plot may be disappointed by the narrator's seemingly aimless rambles and observations (with the exception of one rather implausible twist), though all reveal fascinating, if at times esoteric, insights into art, history, literature, music, and race. Other readers may have difficulty empathizing with Julius's near impenetrable reserve and distance as a narrator. The Onion AV Club perhaps summarized critical opinion: the novel is for those interested in "a compelling spread of conflicting post-9/11 zeitgeists and resonances."