Open City

Open City is a novel by Teju Cole, © Random House 2011

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About Katie Willingham

I am a recently graduated English major and poet from Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN. I am an avid reader and have a lot to say about what I read.
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12 Responses to Open City

  1. fafa says:

    This review really made me want to read this book.

  2. kbergen says:

    “Julius doesn’t need perfect recall; Julius has the internet” – you make me chuckle. But I guess it makes me wonder about this idea that Julius as a writer can use the internet to supplement his voice, because if he’s doing that AND failing to turn inward then I feel like this just compounds the “human” issue. Having not read this, and therefore being unqualified for real thoughts on it, I nevertheless wonder the degree to which this just makes him a compilation of outside sources.

    • Nice catch on the semi-colon. Am I really that obvious? 😉

      Re: Is Julius a person? I think all of these questions certainly matter more when the page is all you have ( i.e. my favorite question: why is this book a book?). Really Julius is all you have since it’s in first-person so we are desperate to trust him, or relate in some way. I think Open City really throws that relationship between narrator and reader (a reader/ any reader; I don’t believe in the reader) into question. And that’s where you reach my final point, perhaps. You could go ahead and take your anger out on Julius for not being trustworthy enough or relatable enough or you could see it as a comment on the way all of us perform ourselves, such that any narration carries this abruptness between inside and outside in it. The difference is just that sometimes we don’t notice.

  3. Ha! Loved your take on this, yo. (and thanks for the shout-out!)

    I’ve always had a thing about so-called “plotless” books because first and foremost I am a pretentious jerk and second I feel like it’s the responsibility of a book to be entertaining on a page-by-page basis, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was a kid reading Douglas Adams with his freewheeling tangents. There were plots there, but who cares? I was there for the jokes. The tradition carried on as I started reading Joyce and Pynchon and yes, Cole, because while there are ongoing events in all of these authors’ works, I feel like I could open up Open City or Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow to any page at random and have a good time reading from there.

    Also one thing I wanted to talk with you about specifically–what was with the ending of Part 1 of the book? The part where he’s in an airplane and rewrites the ending of “The Dead” to fit the moment. At first it stuck out at me as way too cutesy for a guy like Cole, but now maybe I’m thinking it’s just a ballsy piece of character work. Like, maybe the only way Julius can experience a genuine epiphany (or feel like he’s experiencing one, or force one) is by filtering his experiences through one of the most famous short stories ever written. Or maybe you have a different take…?

    • You know most people are of the theory that “plot” is one of the ways a book goes about staying interesting… 😉

      I will get back to you about Part I! I’m going to skim back over that part and have thoughts.

    • Ok, I looked back at the book and it’s unclear to me. Perhaps I’m not familiar enough with that particular Joyce to say if Cole was mimicking closely in order to point to Joyce so that when you read this you see Julius’ twist on Joyce’s ending to suit this moment and it’s more about that transformation than about the lines themselves. Does that follow? Like say, if the point of that ending in “The Dead” was about how snow falls everywhere, even on the dead, in Cole, it’s a cultural statement–rain falls everywhere, on all these different cultures who spend so much energy pointing out their differences and fighting about them. Cole doesn’t find a good solution to this. Calling all fellow Africans “brother” also rings false in the novel.

      As you may have noted from my video, I saw the prevalence of rain in a completely different way. Instead of the great leveler, I read weather as a comment on the disjointed nature of urban space. You might go all day at the office not noticing the rain until you get soaked in it walking that two minutes to the subway. And perhaps this abruptness is also a piece of the human condition. The way we find difference in sameness and sameness in difference, the way you can think you know someone only to find out they can still surprise you. And perhaps the Joycean pastiche here helps make that point. Julius kind of does a bad job borrowing in the sense that Joyce’s lines don’t quite fit (as you aptly pointed out). Underneath the rain, Julius can’t help pointing out difference rather than universality.

  4. Chelsea Mayo says:

    Not saying that you should only seek out book without plots from now on, but they do make for good reviews in your style 🙂 Funny his name is Julius. Seems appropriate to his interests

  5. Ari says:

    Hey, I’m reading this at this very moment for a class! I’ll let you know what I think.

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