Open City

Open City

by Teju Cole


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812980097
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/17/2012
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 182,457
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Teju Cole was born in the United States in 1975 and raised in Nigeria. He is the author of Every Day Is for the Thief and Open City,which won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Internationaler Literaturpreis, the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the New York City Book Award, and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His photography has been exhibited in India and the United States. He is Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College

Read an Excerpt




Death is a perfection of the eye


And so when I began to go on evening walks last fall, I found Morningside Heights an easy place from which to set out into the city. The path that drops down from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and crosses Morningside Park is only fifteen minutes from Central Park. In the other direction, going west, it is some ten minutes to Sakura Park, and walking northward from there brings you toward Harlem, along the Hudson, though traffic makes the river on the other side of the trees inaudible. These walks, a counterpoint to my busy days at the hospital, steadily lengthened, taking me farther and farther afield each time, so that I often found myself at quite a distance from home late at night, and was compelled to return home by subway. In this way, at the beginning of the final year of my psychiatry fellowship, New York City worked itself into my life at walking pace.

Not long before this aimless wandering began, I had fallen into the habit of watching bird migrations from my apartment, and I wonder now if the two are connected. On the days when I was home early enough from the hospital, I used to look out the window like someone taking auspices, hoping to see the miracle of natural immigration. Each time I caught sight of geese swooping in formation across the sky, I wondered how our life below might look from their perspective, and imagined that, were they ever to indulge in such speculation, the high-rises might seem to them like firs massed in a grove. Often, as I searched the sky, all I saw was rain, or the faint contrail of an airplane bisecting the window, and I doubted in some part of myself whether these birds, with their dark wings and throats, their pale bodies and tireless little hearts, really did exist. So amazed was I by them that I couldn’t trust my memory when they weren’t there.

Pigeons flew by from time to time, as did sparrows, wrens, orioles, tanagers, and swifts, though it was almost impossible to identify the birds from the tiny, solitary, and mostly colorless specks I saw fizzing across the sky. While I waited for the rare squadrons of geese, I would sometimes listen to the radio. I generally avoided American stations, which had too many commercials for my taste—Beethoven followed by ski jackets, Wagner after artisanal cheese—instead tuning to Internet stations from Canada, Germany, or the Netherlands. And though I often couldn’t understand the announcers, my comprehension of their languages being poor, the programming always met my evening mood with great exactness. Much of the music was familiar, as I had by this point been an avid listener to classical radio for more than fourteen years, but some of it was new. There were also rare moments of astonishment, like the first time I heard, on a station broadcasting from Hamburg, a bewitching piece for orchestra and alto solo by Shchedrin (or perhaps it was Ysaÿe) which, to this day, I have been unable to identify.

I liked the murmur of the announcers, the sounds of those voices speaking calmly from thousands of miles away. I turned the computer’s speakers low and looked outside, nestled in the comfort provided by those voices, and it wasn’t at all difficult to draw the comparison between myself, in my sparse apartment, and the radio host in his or her booth, during what must have been the middle of the night somewhere in Europe. Those disembodied voices remain connected in my mind, even now, with the apparition of migrating geese. Not that I actually saw the migrations more than three or four times in all: most days all I saw was the colors of the sky at dusk, its powder blues, dirty blushes, and russets, all of which gradually gave way to deep shadow. When it became dark, I would pick up a book and read by the light of an old desk lamp I had rescued from one of the dumpsters at the university; its bulb was hooded by a glass bell that cast a greenish light over my hands, the book on my lap, the worn upholstery of the sofa. Sometimes, I even spoke the words in the book out loud to myself, and doing so I noticed the odd way my voice mingled with the murmur of the French, German, or Dutch radio announcers, or with the thin texture of the violin strings of the orchestras, all of this intensified by the fact that whatever it was I was reading had likely been translated out of one of the European languages. That fall, I flitted from book to book: Barthes’s Camera Lucida, Peter Altenberg’s Telegrams of the Soul, Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Last Friend, among others.

In that sonic fugue, I recalled St. Augustine, and his astonishment at St. Ambrose, who was reputed to have found a way to read without sounding out the words. It does seem an odd thing—it strikes me now as it did then—that we can comprehend words without voicing them. For Augustine, the weight and inner life of sentences were best experienced out loud, but much has changed in our idea of reading since then. We have for too long been taught that the sight of a man speaking to himself is a sign of eccentricity or madness; we are no longer at all habituated to our own voices, except in conversation or from within the safety of a shouting crowd. But a book suggests conversation: one person is speaking to another, and audible sound is, or should be, natural to that exchange. So I read aloud with myself as my audience, and gave voice to another’s words.

In any case, these unusual evening hours passed easily, and I often fell asleep right there on the sofa, dragging myself to bed only much later, usually at some point in the middle of the night. Then, after what always seemed mere minutes of sleep, I was jarred awake by the beeping of the alarm clock on my cellphone, which was set to a bizarre marimba-like arrangement of “O Tannenbaum.” In these first few moments of consciousness, in the sudden glare of morning light, my mind raced around itself, remembering fragments of dreams or pieces of the book I had been reading before I fell asleep. It was to break the monotony of those evenings that, two or three days each week after work, and on at least one of the weekend days, I went out walking.

At first, I encountered the streets as an incessant loudness, a shock after the day’s focus and relative tranquillity, as though someone had shattered the calm of a silent private chapel with the blare of a TV set. I wove my way through crowds of shoppers and workers, through road constructions and the horns of taxicabs. Walking through busy parts of town meant I laid eyes on more people, hundreds more, thousands even, than I was accustomed to seeing in the course of a day, but the impress of these countless faces did nothing to assuage my feelings of isolation; if anything, it intensified them. I became more tired, too, after the walks began, an exhaustion unlike any I had known since the first months of internship, three years earlier. One night, I simply went on and on, walking all the way down to Houston Street, a distance of some seven miles, and found myself in a state of disorienting fatigue, laboring to remain on my feet. That night I took the subway home, and instead of falling asleep immediately, I lay in bed, too tired to release myself from wakefulness, and I rehearsed in the dark the numerous incidents and sights I had encountered while roaming, sorting each encounter like a child playing with wooden blocks, trying to figure out which belonged where, which responded to which. Each neighborhood of the city appeared to be made of a different substance, each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight: the bright lights and shuttered shops, the housing projects and luxury hotels, the fire escapes and city parks. My futile task of sorting went on until the forms began to morph into each other and assume abstract shapes unrelated to the real city, and only then did my hectic mind finally show some pity and still itself, only then did dreamless sleep arrive.

The walks met a need: they were a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and once I discovered them as therapy, they became the normal thing, and I forgot what life had been like before I started walking. Work was a regimen of perfection and competence, and it neither allowed improvisation nor tolerated mistakes. As interesting as my research project was—I was conducting a clinical study of affective disorders in the elderly—the level of detail it demanded was of an intricacy that exceeded anything else I had done thus far. The streets served as a welcome opposite to all that. Every decision—where to turn left, how long to remain lost in thought in front of an abandoned building, whether to watch the sun set over New Jersey, or to lope in the shadows on the East Side looking across to Queens—was inconsequential, and was for that reason a reminder of freedom. I covered the city blocks as though measuring them with my stride, and the subway stations served as recurring motives in my aimless progress. The sight of large masses of people hurrying down into underground chambers was perpetually strange to me, and I felt that all of the human race were rushing, pushed by a counterinstinctive death drive, into movable catacombs. Aboveground I was with thousands of others in their solitude, but in the subway, standing close to strangers, jostling them and being jostled by them for space and breathing room, all of us reenacting unacknowledged traumas, the solitude intensified.

One Sunday morning in November, after a trek through the relatively quiet streets on the Upper West Side, I arrived at the large, sun-brightened plaza at Columbus Circle. The area had changed recently. It had become a more commercial and tourist destination thanks to the pair of buildings erected for the Time Warner corporation on the site. The buildings, constructed at great speed, had just opened, and were filled with shops selling tailored shirts, designer suits, jewelry, appliances for the gourmet cook, handmade leather accessories, and imported decorative items. On the upper floors were some of the costliest restaurants in the city, advertising truffles, caviar, Kobe beef, and pricey “tasting menus.” Above the restaurants were apartments that included the most expensive residence in the city. Curiosity had brought me into the shops on the ground level once or twice before, but the cost of the items, and what I perceived as the generally snobbish atmosphere, had kept me from returning until that Sunday morning.

It was the day of the New York Marathon. I hadn’t known. I was taken aback to see the round plaza in front of the glass towers filled with people, a massive, expectant throng setting itself into place close to the marathon’s finish line. The crowd lined the street leading away from the plaza toward the east. Nearer the west there was a bandstand, on which two men with guitars were tuning up, calling and responding to the silvery notes on each other’s amplified in- struments. Banners, signs, posters, flags, and streamers of all kinds flapped in the wind, and mounted police on blindered horses regulated the crowd with cordons, whistles, and hand movements. The cops were in dark blue and wore sunshades. The crowd was brightly attired, and looking at all that green, red, yellow, and white synthetic material in the sun hurt the eyes. To escape the din, which seemed to be mounting, I decided to go into the shopping center. In addition to the Armani and Hugo Boss shops, there was a bookshop on the second floor. In there, I thought, I might catch some quiet and drink a cup of coffee before heading back home. But the entrance was full of the crowd overflow from the street, and cordons made it impossible to get into the towers.

I changed my mind, and decided instead to visit an old teacher of mine who lived in the vicinity, in an apartment less than ten minutes’ walk away on Central Park South. Professor Saito was, at eighty-nine, the oldest person I knew. He had taken me under his wing when I was a junior at Maxwell. By that time he was already emeritus, though he continued to come to campus every day. He must have seen something in me that made him think I was someone on whom his rarefied subject (early English literature) would not be wasted. I was a disappointment in this regard, but he was kindhearted and, even after I failed to get a decent grade in his English Literature before Shakespeare seminar, invited me to meet with him several times in his office. He had, in those days, recently installed an intrusively loud coffee machine, so we drank coffee, and talked: about interpretations of Beowulf, and then later on about the classics, the endless labor of scholarship, the various consolations of academia, and of his studies just before the Second World War. This last subject was so total in its distance from my experience that it was perhaps of most interest to me. The war had broken out just as he was finishing his D.Phil, and he was forced to leave England and return to his family in the Pacific Northwest. With them, shortly afterward, he was taken to internment in the Minidoka Camp in Idaho.

In these conversations, as I now recall them, he did almost all the talking. I learned the art of listening from him, and the ability to trace out a story from what was omitted. Rarely did Professor Saito tell me anything about his family, but he did tell me about his life as a scholar, and about how he had responded to important issues of his day. He’d done an annotated translation of Piers Plowman in the 1970s, which had turned out to be his most notable academic success. When he mentioned it, he did so with a curious mixture of pride and disappointment. He alluded to another big project (he didn’t say on what) that had never been completed. He spoke, too, about departmental politics. I remember one afternoon that was taken up with his recollection of a onetime colleague whose name meant nothing to me when he said it and which I don’t remember now. This woman had become famous for her activism during the civil rights era and had, for a moment, been such a campus celebrity that her literature classes overflowed. He described her as an intelligent, sensitive individual but someone with whom he could never agree. He admired and disliked her. It’s a puzzle, I remember him saying, she was a good scholar, and she was on the right side of the struggles of the time, but I simply couldn’t stand her in person. She was abrasive and egotistical, heaven rest her soul. You can’t say a word against her around here, though. She’s still considered a saint.

After we became friends, I made it a point to see Professor Saito two or three times each semester, and those meetings became cherished highlights of my last two years at Maxwell. I came to view him as a grandfatherly figure entirely unlike either of my own grandfathers (only one of whom I’d known). I felt I had more in common with him than with the people who happened to be related to me. After graduation, when I left, first for my research stint at Cold Spring Harbor, and then to medical school in Madison, we lost touch with each other. We exchanged one or two letters, but it was hard to have our conversations in that medium, since news and updates were not the real substance of our interaction. But after I returned to the city for internship, I saw him several times. The first, entirely by accident—though it happened on a day when I had been thinking about him—was just outside a grocery store not far from Central Park South, where he had gone out walking with the aid of an assistant. Later on, I showed up unannounced at his apartment, as he had invited me to do, and found that he still maintained the same open-door policy he had back when he had his office at the college. The coffee machine from that office now sat disused in a corner of the room. Professor Saito told me he had prostate cancer. It wasn’t entirely debilitating, but he had stopped going to campus, and had begun to hold court at home. His social interactions had been curtailed to a degree that must have pained him; the number of guests he welcomed had declined steadily, until most of his visitors were either nurses or home health aides.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

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 “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.” –, 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
“Intelligent and panoramic…engaged with the world in a rare and refreshing way.”—Publishers Weekly
“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

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Open City 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not get into this book and found nothing exciting in his walks through NYC. Very disappointed!
rbohica4 More than 1 year ago
I was excited to start reading this book after reading the reviews. Though the book didn't disappoint, I felt it was rushed at the end and left a lot to imagined...
librarianbryan on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I tried. Even the "surprise" at the end couldn't make me care.
handy1 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I have very mixed feelings about this novel. The writing, by which I mean the use of language and the intelligence behind it, was truly wonderful. There were many passages I reread to further admire the metaphor or ponder the concept conveyed. The narrative, however, was sorely lacking, with nary a plot line apparent. It was as if the author created a very astute and articulate protagonist (that was unfortunately not particularly likable or engaging) and placed him in almost random settings to allow discourse on widely varied subject matter. I think short stories would have been a much better format.There were a large number of possible story lines that were created only to disappear entirely, which was quite frustrating. The ending was similarly random and abrupt. Most glaringly was a potentially shattering incident that is revealed from the protagonist's past that gets dropped into the narrative with absolutely zero response/reaction provided. Here is a character that waxes on at length about nearly everything he wanders by, and yet this intense confrontation is left completely unacknowledged. The character merely walks away and begins musing on yet another subject.
Laura400 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This is a very unusual and impressive novel. Its form is like a diary. But while the action moves forward in time, the novel's structure lacks a traditional linear plot. It reads more as a series of revelations about the solitary, distanced narrator.Julius is a medical resident in psychiatry who emigrated alone from Nigeria to the United States for college. He travels, often on foot, around Manhattan, and briefly on vacation in Brussels, and tells us what he sees. He is a careful, caring observer and a good reporter, so he paints interesting portraits of the people he meet and the events and places he experiences. But his travels also seem vaguely compulsive and sometimes almost hallucinatory. And his encounters with people usually contain an aloofness or distance, even with those to whom he is close. Everything seems slightly disconnected, like a dream.With each episode or chapter, biographical details slip out and accrete. But there is never a sense of full knowledge. Then, in an episode near the end, we hear someone else's perspective of Julius, which dramatically underlines how little we know, and perhaps how little he knows. So instead of knowledge and a sense of resolution, we experience the gaps and mysteries and spaces between.I admire the complexity of his task, and how easily he seems to accomplish it. It's a really impressive novel, and an amazingly impressive first novel. It somehow reminds me of W.G. Sebald, but the book in truth is not Sebaldian but uniquely Cole's.
icolford on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Teju Cole's absorbing novel Open City, published in 2011, draws the reader inexorably into the life of the narrator, Julius, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency in New York City.The time is several years after 9/11. Recently separated from a lover of long standing and having lost contact with his family, Julius finds solace walking the streets of the city, the walks acting as a panacea for the strict regimentation of his life and the state of personal isolation in which he finds himself. As he walks, he draws associations and tells stories, of himself, of the people he meets, and of the city and its landmarks. Deeply aware of how his ethnicity marks him, he also refuses to let it define him. Julius is a lover of history and of all forms of art. His meditations offer critiques and commentary on music, architecture, nationhood, literature. His appreciation of his American surroundings is profound, and yet his past haunts him in a manner that causes a painful yearning. In quietly powerful, richly textured prose--dense with metaphor and closely observed detail--Cole's novel is seductive and wise and truly original.
amydross on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I did enjoy this book. Despite being plotless, structure-less, effectively formless, I never found myself bored with the main character's ruminations, and I kept turning pages just to hear his voice and his thoughts, even when nothing of great import was being discussed. This is a quiet, thoughtful, unflashy book, and I liked that.Perhaps most of all, I was engaged by the main character's experience of being black in contemporary America, and yet being at a distance from mainstream black America because he doesn't have a personal history of slavery. I'm hugely interested in authors who are trying to find new ways to write about race in America, and Cole handles this aspect deftly. The other thing that drew me to this book was the author's attempt to engage philosophy in a fictional context, since that's something I'm also trying to do. I found this aspect a bit wanting, though -- the philosophical elements mostly struck me as flimsy and superficial, the characters tending to abandon ideas just as they are getting interesting.I also found myself wondering throughout the book how the author was going to end it -- how do you conclude a story without a structure? The answer seems to be: not well. The last two chapters are clumsy with unearned revelation and pseudo-profundity. A disappointment after the light, pleasantly meandering mood of the rest of the book.
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Not much of a plot. Not any plot really. A Nigerian immigrant in NYC, walks around a lot, has interactions with mostly other immigrants. He goes to Belgium and interacts with immigrants there too. But, an enjoyable read overall. The character's reactions to what he see and experiences are intresting, there is alot of opinions given on important issues, and the book is very well written.There are also some flashbacks to his childhood in Nigeria. I found this aspect of the book the most enjoyable, because I like to be transported to countries and cultures that are much different from my own. One problem I had with the book came near the end. He gets confronted by someone from his past, who accuses him of certain bad acts, but he never reflects on what is said to him. I was expecting and looking forward to seeing how he reacted to the accusation and finding out his perspective on the events in question.
richardderus on LibraryThing 7 months ago
The Book Report: The annus horribilis of Julius, a Nigerian psych resident in Manhattan. He is estranged from his mother, his only surviving parent; never knew his German maternal grandmother; is alone and adrift in the cold (too cold for his tropical self) and cruel city. He responds to his recent loss of a girlfriend to the lures of San Francisco by walking. He lives in Morningside Heights, a small college town on Manhattan's far Upper West Side; he works his last year of residency at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, one of the city's medical gems; he attends a concerts of music I'd pay money to avoid (Mahler! PURCELL! *shudder*); and he walks.His ramblings take him to every part of Manhattan, later also Brussels where he spends a month looking quite haphazardly for his probably dead German grandmother whom he does not find; his trained ear allows him to listen to text and subtext in his many conversations with many and various people of most every ethnicity these famously open cities have to offer. He is, in Christopher Isherwood's very apt phrase, a camera ("I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording not thinking...."); we are never treated to a view of the man holding the camera, but rather we are in the camera as he swings it about. In the end, there are no actions to report of Julius, but he makes up for his passivity with his introspection, and his clearly flawed impassivity to the emotional realities of others. My Review: I had no idea this book was coming to me. In a truly random act, Random House's Random House imprint delivered me a signed copy of the book, with the editor's card (thank you, kind sir! Nice to get a gift from someone I don't know!) and a photocopied rave review of the book from The New Yorker. I read the first 10pp anyway, since The New Yorker and I almost never agree on books.I was hooked. I was claustrophobic and annoyed and hooked. I had no idea books like this, the truly interior novels of the nouvelle roman ilk, were still able to be published in the USA. I mentioned above that we never, ever leave the camera that is Julius's head; all experiences are filtered through his eyes, heard with his ears. It's actually physically confining, this technique; like being tied up and read to. NOT a favorite activity of mine, for the record; either of them. It's a species of intimacy that I find quite discomfiting. But it works here because the narrator is so completely unable to be anywhere but here, think about any time but now; his excursions into memory are forced, and intentionally so (I think; Mr. Cole and I aren't acquainted, so I impute motives to him on no basis but my eyes). Anooyingly, Julius is not very good at contextualizing his world. This is the risk an author runs in writing from inside the tightest and narrowest of boxes, the human skull. Of course, no sane person runs around through the day contextualizing his or her own story, so that's hardly a mark against the author's fidelity to his vision. But it makes Julius a little less of a forceful presence and more of a miasmic infestation in his own book. I was left feeling that the bedbugs (horrible bloodsucking little fiends) resembled the narrator a little too closely. Both are simply *there* and the fact of them is meant to be enough to set action rolling. I mildly disagree, but that's neither here nor there in evaluating the book's merits.And merits it has. The prose is begulingly poetic. The lushness of description would feel out-of-timely off-putting were it not for the sense of inevitability and rightness the descriptions provide. The structure of the book (the hardest personal and professional year of a residency, that last one) isn't in any way innovative, but it's used to excellent effect. Julius, based on reading this book, seems like the sort of man who would be interesting to run into on his walks around Manhattan. I suspect the same would be true of Mr. Cole. Whatever force impelled the author to write this bo
reluctantm on LibraryThing 7 months ago
It was interesting but I couldn't get over the feeling that I was being lectured to. There's no plot per se and sometimes the story reads like a philosophy textbook. This is definitely not a book for someone who wants a linear plot.
porch_reader on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This book is hard to review. It's hard to summarize. And I'm not even sure if I would recommend that you read it, although I am glad that I read it, and I appreciate the skill with which Cole writes. This book made several "best of 2011" lists, and it did quite well in the Powell/Morning News Tournament of Books, but even those who like it seem to have a hard time describing exactly why they liked it. On the surface, it is a book about Julius, a Nigerian immigrant who is doing his psychiatry residency in New York City. Julius walks the streets of New York and reflects. Occasionally, he interacts with someone else, but not often. Mostly this is a book about Julius's inner life, and what a complex inner life it is. Julius reflects on identity, on what it means to be different, on what it means to belong and to feel isolated. In the end, he arrives at few answers. But, despite the extreme differences between my life and Julius's, I felt a sense of affinity with him. Still I wonder how much I will retain from this book. I suspect that I may remember what the reading experience felt like more than I'll remember any specific details. This book is multi-layered. I'm sure that there is much that I missed. For that reason, I think it would be a good book to read with a group. I think that it is one of those rare books that I'll read again someday.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoughtful and evocative. I'll never see New York in the same way again.
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Jill Schmoldt More than 1 year ago
Kept waiting for sometging to happen. Not worth the read.
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resena More than 1 year ago
I ordered this book a month ago and it has not yet arrived. Yet you have been hounding me to review it. Please beta test your automated software before you activate it.