Open City

Teju Cole

Comparisons to W. G.Sebald alone sold me on this debut novel from this Nigerian-American writer. His character Julius also grew up in Nigeria and now lives in New York City practicing psychiatry; in his spare time he wanders the city (and at times travels to other cities to wander) in contemplation, revisiting events from both near and distant pasts of his own and sometimes his patients’. It’s a story with a light plot, and I imagine all the meanderings are elevated with a decent understanding of the Manhattan landmarks. At least I felt more attuned to places I could picture from my own memory.

Julius is kind of frustrating character because it seems sometimes that he is too passive and distances himself from any possibility of reaching the deep truths he seems to desire. But he is an interesting, scholarly guy, and there’s a sense by the end that somehow all the little insights from people he meets  along the way are going to pull together for him eventually. In that sense the point seems to be the process more than the resolution.

But in the dark spaces between the dead, shining stars were stars I could not see, stars that still existed, and were giving out light that hadn’t reached me yet, stars now living and giving out light but present to me only as blank interstices. Their light would arrive on earth eventually, long after I and my whole generation and the generation after me had slipped out of time, perhaps long after the human race itself was extinguished. To look into those dark spaces was to have a direct glimpse of the future.