Teju Cole’s Open City; A review

open cityBook: Open City

Writer: Teju Cole

Nationality: Nigeria/USA

Number of pages: 259

Publisher: Faber and Faber.

Open City is the highly praised debut novel of Nigerian/US writer Teju Cole who was the main speaker at Storymoja Hay Festival in 2013. The novel is about Julius, a psychiatrist who was born to a Nigerian father and German mother in Nigeria. Julius goes through school in Naija then goes on to become a psychiatrist in New York, USA. The book tells the stories of the mans wandering through the streets of the Big Apple and his musings as he goes around his the city after his work day.

What did I like about the novel?

The only subjects that I really did well in high school were in English and History. My history part of this book is something that appealed to my high school passing tendencies. There is quite a bit to mull over with the story of New York and its origins. One learns of the history of city with its former colonial power Holland (who knew?!) and on to the English. One learns about classical music and some specific composers and photographers and more.

Also in the learning mode you learn quite a bit about Belgium and many of its diverse population and their lives.

Away from the extended history lesson I enjoyed the concept of an African in New York who isn’t just about your typical African-In-America stereotype. This is a guy who is a qualified sought out medic in one of the biggest cities in the world with a love of classical music and art and stuff. Very nice.

Also that some New Yorkers have to suffer the ignominy of bed bugs. Sweet!

What I loved about the novel?

The prose. Damn this Teju Cole dude can write and it appealed the English in me. I went through the pages of the book just enjoying my reading. It was like I was eating 259 pages of really good cheese cake. It was hella good. What’s not to like about such quotes;

“To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.”

“I couldn’t remember what life was like before I started walking.”
“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.”

You can read more quotes from the book from Good Reads readers here.

What didn’t I like about the novel?

The protagonist is a bit psychotic no? He is a well read, pretty well travelled guy whose job is to help people with their emotional needs. But there is no evidence of his own emotional stability. This is a guy who is being mugged on the street and instead of worrying about his safety he goes into soliloquies about the human condition. This is a guy accused of raping a woman years ago and he starts mulling on a Roman hero from the 6th century and Nietzsche. Who does this seriously? This guy is a psycho and I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time with the likes of him if he was in my space. This is clear with the other characters in the book as very few people seem to spend time with him except the nearly dead professor. Not even his ex-girlfriend Nadege who has broken up with him even though he is still hung up on her.

What did I hate about the novel?

I am not a fan of books without plots. I was busy eating the good cheese cake prose when it dawned upon me that I was at page 200 and this story didn’t even look likely to start anytime soon. When I started feeling worried that this book was ending with holes all over and no plot the writer threw in a plot twists; a rape accusation. The worst part for me was that as I read this book I was thinking that this book was about a psycho serial killer dude and this is all I get? An alleged rapist who doesn’t even respond? The hell? Instead of satisfying my need for plot this just irritates the hell out of me. What was the point of the whole book then? While we are at it, we never get to meet the mother he is estranged from or why this is so. He never gets to see his grandmother even though he goes to spend a whole month in her country of Belgium.

Do I recommend this book?

For the prose yes. For rest of it, save your money.

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