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Open City [Paperback]

Teju Cole
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
RRP: £12.99
Price: £10.39 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

4 Aug 2011

'The past, if there is such a thing, is mostly empty space, great expanses of nothing, in which significant persons and events float. Nigeria was like that for me: mostly forgotten, except for those few things that I remembered with outsize intensity.'

Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Julius: they are a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and they give him the opportunity to process his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. Though he is navigating the busy parts of town, the impression of countless faces does nothing to assuage his feelings of isolation. But it is not only a physical landscape he covers; Julius crisscrosses social territory as well, encountering people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey-which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.

A haunting novel about national identity, race, liberty, loss, dislocation, and surrender, Teju Cole's Open City seethes with intelligence. Written in a clear, rhythmic voice that lingers, this book is a mature, profound work by an important new author who has much to say about our world.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (4 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571279422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571279425
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 330,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Impressive ... intricately woven ... a remarkable debut novel, one that's as effortless as a stroll around Central Park.' --Sunday Times

'There is something beguiling about this very articulate flâneur picking his way through the snares of consciousness ... agreeably strange and suggestive.' --Financial Times

`A melancholy, beautiful meditation on modern urban life ... reveals Teju Cole as one of a talented new generation.' --Hari Kunzru

'A novel to savour and treasure.' --Colm Tóibín

'Beautiful, subtle, and finally, original.'
--James Wood, New Yorker

Book Description

A stunning and acclaimed debut novel following a young man's journey from Nigeria to Manhattan.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One to love, and to reread 8 Feb 2011
Format:Hardcover
Open City is an exceptional novel.

Its intense, detailed and specific narrative, unravelling inside the mind of one man, Julius - a young Nigerian-German doctor completing his residency in psychiatry in a New York hospital - brings the city of new York hauntingly to life in a different, slower, deeper way from anything I've ever read. From this detail and specificity, it reaches out widely to the global flows of our fluxing, ungraspable world, personified by the various immigrants and asylum seekers he encounters. It reaches in, too, to touch the reader's mind and senses and emotions. For this restrained, intellectual voice, you realise, is piercingly sensitive - it gets to you!

This is not one for the fan of plot-heavy pageturners, perhaps. Julius spends much time alone, walks a lot and thinks a lot, about art and memory and history. He sees a lot, as loners sometimes do, and has strange, surprising, significant encounters, often with other immigrants, as loners sometimes do.

His story, perhaps, goes nowhere much. And yet, in his actual journey to Brussels, his journeys of memory back to Nigeria, and in the mouths and memories of those he meets from far-flung places, it goes to Africa, to Europe... and to places in the heart.

It travels too, through his observations and reflections, in time, political and cultural history. Full of seeming digressions, it digresses in fact not at all, but is a seamless deepening through detail of the whole picture and atmosphere of today's global city.

And it goes to a sharp inner twist that you will not forget.

It's a book to love, and to reread many times.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
A young doctor takes breaks from his busy psychiatric residency and, later, private practice by walking the streets of New York and traveling briefly to Brussels. Julius's rich, diary-like account of his interactions with the cities' people and structures, salted with his incomplete self-knowledge and unresolved past, amounts to Open City, an engrossing meditation and celebration of language.

I'd rather share my experience with Open City than review it. After reading the novel, I began (a bit like Julius, who settles into a flâneur's perspective during his walks) running into lengthy, insightful, and deservedly positive reviews of it in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The New Statesman. Not much I can add to what they say.

Observation and language worked like plot to carry me along, mind and spirit, though Julius's wanderings. Julius often feels reflective and associative, much like anyone reading, and subject to crosscurrents of art, music, literature, his own fine-tuned senses and city life. Consider the synchronicity in this paragraph after Julius describes a performance of Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall:

"In the glow of the final movement, but well before the music ended, an elderly woman in the front row stood, and began to walk up the aisle. She walked slowly, and all eyes were on her, though all ears remained on the music. It was a though she had been summoned, and was leaving into death, drawn by a force invisible to us. The old woman was frail, with a think crown of white hair that, backlit by the stage, became a halo, and she moved so slowly that she was like a mote suspended inside the slow-moving music.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars hype? 23 July 2012
Format:Paperback
I was so excited about this book - W.G. Sebald written by a disaffected NY immigrant, the premise is fantastic, and the clouds of literary hype it trailed had me almost salivating.

And yet...it was one of the most disappointing books I have read in years. A seriously poorly put-together work of fiction.

I don't mind that 'nothing happens' - I am a lover of digressive works of fiction or non-fiction or semi-fiction, but here it wasn't digressive so much as utterly aimless. In such a work, the narrator or his/her stories have to engage us in some way, but Julius is simply so utterly unlikeable that, as a reader, I cared nothing for him or the fairly dull tales he has to tell.

Cole attempts bathos, or perhaps some sort of humour in his meditation on the passing of Tower Records (for example) - but it ends up being nothing but faintly ridiculous. He seems to pride himself on the fact that he is so utterly unlikeable, yet has nothing of other unlikeable narrators (be they Humbert Humbert, Tarquin Winot, Freddie Montgomery or any number of Banville's queasy raconteurs).

The later revelation of some of Julius' possible earlier misdeeds toward the end of the book creates no drama, no interest, no nothing - especially as Julius himself seems to be so unbothered by it (is he an unreliable narrator? I don't care, and neither does he. Did I miss something? If I did, again, I just don't care).

The disappointment, vague frustration and - mostly -utter boredom - I felt while reading this book were compounded by having recently seen Cole read from it: never have I seen a writer so palpably bored by his own writing. I don't blame him.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes
I looked forward to this book as I had read several favourable reviews but I must confess that the book left me a bit lukewarm. Read more
Published 9 months ago by 'Delia
4.0 out of 5 stars Confusing Debut
This debut has been showered with praise and prizes. I find it hard to judge it away from NYC, Brussels and Nigeria, its main venues. Read more
Published 22 months ago by P. A. Doornbos
4.0 out of 5 stars Our book club recommendation
I have barely started it. It was our bookclub book of the month last month and most of the members enjoyed it. So hoping I also will.
Published on 14 July 2012 by b
1.0 out of 5 stars And your point?
Exquisitely written - or slick New Yorkerese? 'The tall girl who brought my coffee had a Parisian rather than Bruxelloise affect.' Cole makes even Brussels feel like New York. Read more
Published on 31 May 2012 by Simon Barrett
2.0 out of 5 stars Oddball
I feel odd not giving this book a fantastic review like others.

It started off a bit slow then Cole managed to capture my interest along the way with some wonderful... Read more
Published on 28 Feb 2012 by JO
2.0 out of 5 stars Another modern novel.....zzzzz
Deliberately cryptic. Meandering. The flaneur psychiatrist walks around NYC and Brussels (once in a while Nigeria gets a look in). Read more
Published on 5 Feb 2012 by J. Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificent Stream-of-Consciousness Novel That Is Also a Most...
"Open City" is an astonishingly mature literary debut from New York City-based art historian and photographer Teju Cole and one well deserving of its ample critical acclaim for... Read more
Published on 10 Jan 2012 by John Kwok
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent novel by an individual voice
'Open City' is Teju Cole's first novel, and it sets a standard that will be hard to keep up. Critics have been scrabbling for superlatives and reaching for comparisons with authors... Read more
Published on 26 Dec 2011 by Paul Bowes
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