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Open City by Teju Cole
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Jan 31, 15


This was the most perfect book I have read in a long, long time until I reached the end.
The tone of Cole's voice, his honesty and integrity, the vantage point of his view of the world, the subtle lyricism of his words, the generosity of spirit beneath the surface along with his critical eye towards the true injustices. it all added up to a tremendous first novel. Cole captured the rhythms of New York and the sites and sounds we all know there so well, neighborhood by neighborhood. He revealed his depth of international understanding during his protagonist's travels in Europe, his memories of Africa, his parents and their German and Nigerian background, his grandmother in Belgium. He covered vast historical territory, yet the book is anchored in the beat of the present, and as you grow to trust his voice, page by page, you realize you would gladly travel with him anywhere he would care to go. He has been compared to W. G. Sebald and it is an apt comparison, but Cole opens an insightful window into the 21st century where Sebald halted at the end of the 20th. The migration patterns of the world became like birds in Cole's talented hands that suddenly formed patterns we could decipher in the complicated air we live in. His erudition in so many subjects: art, literature, world history, art history, medicine, and his eye as a photographer cast a secondary spell in each scene. You can see how much I was enjoying reading it! I wrote all of the above before I reached the last chapter and though it does not void my feelings about the rest of the book, there is a startling revelation and that has left me feeling betrayed by the voice I had come to trust. It turns out that was Cole's point, and in various interviews he articulately discusses the whole matter in this Yale magazine: http://linkis.com/research.yale.edu/7... Unlike the weak surprise of 'lack of atonement' in the last chapter of Atonement, the casual detachment about a cruelty and the narrator's blindness to it disappoints me in the deepest reservoirs of character---not the characters of books, but the generosity of spirit that gives a person character. I look forward to Cole's first book, Every Day is for the Thief, to be reprinted---described as a Sebaldian combination of photos with his lyric narration.
This book has my my qualified heartfelt and thoughtful recommendation.
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