Open CityBook |
Open City is a fascinating, impressive first novel.
Over the course of Teju Cole's fascinating first novel Open City, the cultured, itinerant narrator Julius wanders the island of Manhattan visiting friends, viewing art exhibits, and ruminating on his Nigerian homeland, all while carefully sidestepping any potential emotional landmines in his own life. He's not repressed so much as suppressed. His inner world, however, seems to be reflected in everything he so insightfully observes around him, and he winds up exposing his feelings through what he chooses to comment on; it's only fitting that Julius is also a therapist: a subtle, comedic touch. Wherever he goes—to Brussels to track down his grandmother, a shoeshine stand in Penn Station, and of course the office where he practices—people feel compelled to tell him their life story, and one of Cole's many gifts is his ability to capture and distinguish the disparate voices and characters throughout. Personal details of Julius' life are filled in incrementally, including a difficult home life and childhood in Lagos, and failed relationships with his mother and ex-girlfriend, yet these barely ruffle the surface of his relentless compartmentalization. An ugly and unflattering memory is eventually forced to the surface, and Cole stumbles momentarily in handling it, but this does little to lessen the overall impact of the book. Open City is the impressive work of a major new talent.