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Open City (2011)

por Teju Cole

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1,437879,671 (3.62)85
Feeling adrift after ending a relationship, Julius, a young Nigerian doctor living in New York, takes long walks through the city while listening to the stories of fellow immigrants until a shattering truth is revealed.
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Inglês (80)  Holandês (4)  Alemão (1)  Sueco (1)  Francês (1)  Todas as línguas (87)
Mostrando 1-5 de 87 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
This is a book of well crafted, painfully boring prose. It took me a while to warm up to it even while I enjoyed individual sentences throughout. It's a bit of a novel of ideas, though I don't remember any one idea that Cole stuck with for very long at all. Until I was well into it, it was hard for me to read more than 4 or 5 pages in a sitting. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
Had I done a bit more research, I never would have started this book. I do not care about New York. I do not care about your observations of birdlife. I do not care about your descriptions of buildings. I do not care about your random conversations with random people about nothing, in large part because I do not think they add up to anything.

Well well, I vaguely remembered a review of a novel, possibly not this one, in which a guy thinks about Foucault. For some reason, I thought I was in the mood for that last night, and started this book. Bad idea. As if all my above indifferences were not enough, the prose reminded me of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. For instance, "As interesting as my research project was--I was conducting a clinical study of affective disorders in the elderly--the level of detail it demanded was of an intricacy that exceeded anything else I had done thus far." Where was Cole's editor when he was writing this (rather than, say "My research project was interesting--I was conducting x. But it demanded far more concentration from me than anything I had done before it" or any other variation on the sentence that doesn't involve nonsense (how can a 'level of detail' be intricate?) and barbarous (why put 'level of detail' before 'it demanded')?

A similar example: "In that room, into which always seemed to flow a gentle and cool northern light, he was surrounded by art from a lifetime of collecting". Why is the verb before the subject of the verb in the second clause? Why is this sentence not two sentences, given that the "In that room..." has nothing to do with the sentence's purpose? I could go on, but will refrain. Throughout the book, Cole's prose is falsely precise (it sounds 'smart,' but is not) and cold.

Then there is the constant name-dropping, which makes the book feel a bit like listening to NPR: biographies of great men (all men), combined with mentions of the fact that their works are being consumed--Tolstoy, Borges, Barthes, Mahler, El Greco, on and on and on... The book mentions almost everyone that a respectable middle-class pseudo-intellectual should have read, listened to or seen. And with only one exception, nobody actually talks about those men or their works. This is not pretentiousness; I love pretentiousness. A pretentious book would spend fifteen pages talking about whether Mahler was an ironist. But this book is, in general, vulgar.

Which is not to say that there are no deep thoughts here. There are many deep thoughts, for instance, "to be alive, it seemed to me... was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone." The characters constantly talk about, while never experiencing, injustice, whether due to race, gender, ethnicity or religion. Etc... Again, NPR.

Spoilers in this paragraph:

In the last twenty pages or so, Cole tries to justify all the silliness that has gone before. First, his narrator thinks about Paracelsus, whose theory of 'Signs' is meant to explain the narrative strategy: external material things can teach us about the inner realities. That is why the narrator spends so much time looking at birds. They are teaching him about himself. Second, [SPOILER ALERT!], a woman accuses the narrator of raping her. His response is to think about Nietzsche and Scaevola. Now, this will remind you that the narrator reacts to almost everything, including getting mugged, by thinking about something else. He is hiding in his thoughts, you see. You can't trust him, you see. He might even be a rapist, though you can't trust the rape-victim either. This is why the prose is so cold: because you can't trust the narrator! Even good NPR listening folks are untrustworthy, because they perceive the world in their own way and not as it really is in-itself (note: the only name the narrator doesn't drop is Kant). Stories are untrustworthy! Good liberals are untrustworthy! And now, having amused yourself with this story, reinforcing your awareness of your liberal guilt, and thus sloughing it, you can get back to the martini party.

The book is saved from my toilet-paper pile by the conversation our narrator has with a young man in Belgium, who is reading Benjamin. This guy can actually talk about Benjamin, rather than just name-dropping him, which rather throws our narrator off. Cole doesn't bring up Walter's famous, and relevant, claim that "There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism". But it should come to mind at the end of the novel. In any case, the passion this young man shows for the justice and duties of Islam were so pleasant in the face of everything else on offer that I could, conceivably, go back to re-read those pages. And if Cole ever gets an editor worthy of his ambition, I might even read his later books.
( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
There were some interesting thoughts and quotes in here, but it didn't come together enough for me. I'm really curious to see where the book group takes this one (if they take it anywhere) or if we'll be digressing for most of the hour!

Some parts of this (re immigration and race) definitely felt even more applicable today than in 2011, so maybe we'll focus there. But yeesh, it would be nicer to talk about progress. ( )
  beautifulshell | Aug 27, 2020 |
I really enjoyed the first 90% of this book, and if I could review it on that alone, I would have given it four stars. But the rape plot twist towards the end poisoned the whole rest of the book for me.

It's not that I'm especially anti-plot-twists - but this particular plot twist made me feel as though I had been betrayed. And if that was Cole's intention, as I think it must have been, I think that's a gross thing to do on purpose to your readers.


I don't recommend this book. ( )
  elenaj | Jul 31, 2020 |
I found it to be well-written, but struggled the whole way through. Maybe the style/genre isn't for me. ( )
  peterbmacd | May 17, 2020 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 87 (seguinte | mostrar todos)


adicionada por laytonwoman3rd | editarThe New Yorker, James Wood (Feb 28, 2011)
 
Want to write a breakout first novel? The conventional wisdom says ingratiate yourself (Everything Is Illuminated), grab the reader by the lapels (The Lovely Bones), or put on an antic show (Special Topics in Calamity Physics). Teju Cole's disquietingly powerful debut Open City does none of the above. It's light on plot. It's exquisitely written, but quiet; the sentences don't call attention to themselves. The narrator, a Nigerian psychiatry student, is emotionally distant, ruminative, and intellectual. His account of a year spent walking around New York, encountering immigrants of all kinds, listening to their stories and recalling his own African boyhood, achieves its resonance obliquely, through inference—meaning you have to pay attention. But Open City is worth the effort.

Immigration and exile are not new literary subjects (Salman Rushdie, Chang Rae-Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri), but Cole's treatment of them has a quiet clarity and surprising force. Will Open City find a breakout audience? I wonder, given its slow pace and darkness of its theme. Still, I hope so; it's the most thoughtful and provocative debut I've read in a long time.
adicionada por kidzdoc | editarThe Daily Beast, David Antrim (Feb 7, 2011)
 
Teju Cole’s Open City is neither a melodrama, nor is it about a city that has technically been declared "open" during wartime. The novel is set in New York City, no more than a couple of years ago, and narrated by a Nigerian psychiatrist on a research fellowship. Throughout the novel, the psychiatrist, Julius, wanders the streets of the city taking careful note of everything he sees, and everyone with whom he interacts. His observations are recorded in beautifully clear prose with the precision of a clinician, or at least the way one might wish to imagine the precision of a clinician. The descriptions of the cityscape around him are interspersed with memories of his boyhood in Nigeria. His time in New York is interrupted by a trip to Brussels which Julius takes using up his entire four week vacation time, in the vague, unrealized hope of somehow encountering his grandmother there. He is, however, unsure as to whether she is still alive, or even if she lives there at all. Without a clear plan to find her, he continues his habit of wandering, observing, interacting, recording.
adicionada por kidzdoc | editarBookslut, Daisy Rockwell (Feb 1, 2011)
 

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Feeling adrift after ending a relationship, Julius, a young Nigerian doctor living in New York, takes long walks through the city while listening to the stories of fellow immigrants until a shattering truth is revealed.

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