Terryn's Reviews > Open City

Open City by Teju Cole
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Apr 07, 2011

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Read in March, 2011

Reading Cole’s “Open City” was kind of like giving someone the black person head nod, and the other person staring back at you like you’re crazy. That’s basically what I felt in struggling to finish this book. I bought the novel as an act of solidarity, because he is a young black writer writing about young black experiences. Now, I won’t stop supporting writers in general and young black ones in particular, but I will keep it real if the work is not engaging. I didn’t recognize myself (or people I know) in the story.

“City” is Cole’s first novel, and details the daily life of Julius, a Nigerian-German psychiatry student in his last year of residency in a New York hospital. The story follows him as he wanders Manhattan and thinks. Cole’s prose is beautiful and reflective and the book is incredibly written. However, the minimal plot and Julius’ general douchiness (a symptom of his privileges – male, socioeconomic, doctoral) left me not really caring about anything happening in the protagonist’s life. Like at all. I don’t care that he walked down to Wall Street to reflect, I don’t care that he hates his white mother, and I don’t care that he goes to Belgium and screws a cougar. I had literary constipation, because I literally did not give a give a sh*t.

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03/11/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Harris This is well-written. I have this book on my to-read list. And, just as you, I picked it up "as an act of solidarity." I look forward to reading it.


Terryn Thanks Jasmine :) I hope you enjoy it. It wasn't quite my taste, but it's always important to support other writers.


message 3: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Harris Welcome! I agree.


Jessica Ah, thank you for being one of the only individuals to review this book on here that alludes to the ending! That moment, when it is revealed what Julius did as a teenager back in Nigeria at that party...and he DOESN'T CARE!? At that point I just, it threw me! To invest time and thought into a character like that and then, BAM! Your protagonist turned antagonist!


Walter I'm not black but I agree with your sentiments like this is a good piece of literature but Julius is really unsympathetic as a character and I lost interest in his feelings and opinions on Russian literature for obvious reasons at the end


message 6: by outraged (new) - added it

outraged I struggled a lot with this book because despite how much I wanted to like it, I simply couldn't. And I couldn't place my finger on the reason either. But now I feel like I finally understand my own dislike for Open City.. your first phrase captures it perfectly: "kind of like giving someone the black person head nod, and the other person staring back at you like you’re crazy". Hit the nail on the head.

I'm still having hopes that Cole was simply too afraid to write about the darker parts of being mixed, about the plight of less-privileged people than himself. Here's hoping that the success of this book will push him to write a freer, braver, more raw book.


Pete Dematteo julius was a psuedo-intellectual snob from the upper west side. remember how stand-offish he was with the african cab driver down by the former twin towers? lonely people thrive upon living in new york city.


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