Open City

By Teju Cole,

Book cover of Open City

Book description

The bestselling debut novel from a writer heralded as the twenty-first-century W. G. Sebald.

A haunting novel about national identity, race, liberty, loss and surrender, Open City follows a young Nigerian doctor as he wanders aimlessly along the streets of Manhattan. For Julius the walks are a release from the…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked Open City as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

By most accounts, immigrant literature deals primarily with how immigrants struggle to adapt to their adopted countries.

Its readers have come to expect stories of identity formation, of how immigrants create ethnic communities and maintain ties to countries of origin. Yet such narratives can center exceptional stories of individual success or obscure the political forces that uproot millions of people the world over.

This novel simulates the intimacy of immigrant memoir by seemingly giving readers access to his narrator’s interiority; it seems to cater to readerly expectation. And yet this is ultimately a ruse to obtain readerly investment, which Cole…

This is a novel about a man who wanders ruminatively around New York a couple of years after the 2008 financial crisis. One of the reasons it works, I think, is because everything we see about New York, every person we meet or interaction we overhear or street we observe, is through the eyes of the story’s narrator. Getting to know him means getting to know the city, and vice versa. He has a relationship with New York, which is charged and at times deceptive, which felt true, if nothing else.

From Elizabeth's list on Post-9/11 New York City.

This is literally a book about walking around a foreign city (New York), going “farther and farther afield each time,” and viewing things through an outsider’s eyes. Beneath the surface, however, it is something much more: the need (and failure) to confront unaddressed trauma, whether that be personal or communal. Quite fittingly, post-9/11 Manhattan serves as the backdrop for much of the story, as Julius, the protagonist, muses on various topics ranging from social theory to art and literature. In the end, it’s up to readers to dig beneath this guise of intellectualism to find out what’s really there.

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