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Open City

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  14,011 ratings  ·  1,756 reviews
'The past, if there is such a thing, is mostly empty space, great expanses of nothing, in which significant persons and events float. Nigeria was like that for me: mostly forgotten, except for those few things that I remembered with outsize intensity.'

Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Ju
Paperback, 259 pages
Published 2011 by Faber Faber
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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Jay Z
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fic-lit
after finally reading this book and listening to the awed murmurings that accompany any mention of it, i'm mostly just awash in a sea of confusion. a lot of reviews point to how teju cole defies stereotype. i assume this refers to the stereotypical third-world oppression/poverty porn crap that's lining the shelves these days. though saying that a book defies stereotype isn't about how good the book is, it's about how bad everything else is in comparison. as compliments go, it's a piss-poor one. ...more
Apr 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 peopl ...more
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2015
Stepping off the kerb

So, here's the conundrum. If you are writing the sort of novel that refuses to do any of the traditional jobs of an old-fashioned novel, like fulfil a quest, solve a puzzle, achieve redemption, map a transition from one state to another, if it denies the idea of an arc of tension or indeed a plot of any kind, in fact, then how do you finish it?

Here we have Julius, walking around Sebald-like in New York, then walking around in Brussels, where he vaguely thinks about looking
Justin Evans
May 13, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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 m
Stephanie Sun
Aug 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On a flight to Belgium a third of the way through the book, narrator/human palimpsest Julius muses that conversations with strangers on planes quickly turn tiresome for him, rarely rewarding his curiosity. Ironic, because that's how I began to feel about Julius's rambling digressions by about this time in the book. That's not to say that he's never insightful—he's often brilliant in fact—but some of the observations are quite dull, the banal profundities of everyone's late-night conversations in ...more
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2018
I finished this book too late to review it yesterday, and I was hoping that sleeping on it would help to clarify my thoughts, but my opinions remain unfocused and very mixed.

Perhaps this is inevitable - the book has almost no plot and like Rachel Cusk's recent trilogy it consists of a series of reported conversations. We do learn more about the narrator Julius, a half-German Nigerian psychotherapist living in New York, so the comparison is superficial, and the book is really an extended meditat
Kima Jones
Nov 04, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book meandered from continent to continent. At times, I was absolutely bored despite some really beautiful and impressive passages. No one can doubt Cole's absolute command for the historical or philosophical, but as a criticism of how it appears in this text, I'm just not interested in every mundane human interaction with a stranger or old friend. Further, the plot twist in Chapter 20 didn't feel real or even remotely connected to the last 19 chapters that I had just diligently waded throu ...more
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbury-library
I’ve now read all three of Cole’s books. I admire each of them, chiefly for the sense of place and the sense of self. Here Julius, a sophisticated psychiatry resident, wanders the streets of Manhattan and Brussels, meeting people, hearing stories and dredging up memories from his early life in Nigeria. “I was the listener, the compassionate African who paid attention to the details of someone else’s life and struggle.” I loved the mixture of external events and internal shifts: a startling revel ...more
I've been meaning to read this book just forever, and I'm delighted that I finally did. On balance, it's a very lovely, very thoughtful, very soft book. "Soft" probably seems like a bizarre word, but I mean it in a specific way that I've never quite been able to articulate; I feel it with certain Margaret Atwood books but also with Alejandro Zambra's The Private Lives of Trees. It's a quality of stillness, of meandering—when I open books like this it's as if a hush descends, and the prose unfurl ...more
Aug 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
using a realist, pseudo-autobiographical style very reminiscent of sebald, the main character, Julius, wanders through an up-to-date and recognizable NYC, an accomplishment in itself, observing the marathoners and skyscrapers at columbus circle, the twin towers intact in the queens museum's diorama, conversations with cabdrivers infused with political subtext, bedbugs -- and uses that general observation to describe, repeatedly and profoundly, the immigrant's situation. maybe in fact the novel i ...more
I rise at six from tangled sheets and open every window to the cool morning air, a breath of life after the stifling heat of the past few days. I stand on the edge of the terrace a moment and savour the chill on my skin, a refreshing tonic that gently dispels the dread of oily days. A quick glass of clear, cool water, dress, and I am out, heading for the park and the fields beyond the allotment gardens. The world feels new-made and virginal to my pounding feet in their vibrant green running shoe ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Problem sa ocenjivanjem ovde je što ova petica i petica za Oza i ona za Rejesa nisu iste, i ne treba da budu. Ovo je petica za besprekorno pripovedanje, najbolji kraj koji sam čitala u poslednjih nekoliko meseci, političke komentare bez okorele ideologije, mnogo zanimljivih podataka koje sam saznala o umetnosti i istoriji itd.
Znate ono kad ljudi vole da idu u Tursku na mesta gde su snimane turske serije? I tako bih i ja išla na mesta gde je 'snimana ova knjiga' jer je snimana - Kol je fotograf i
Reading the wonderful Open City by Teju Cole I cannot imagine what a non-New Yorker (meaning, of course, in the elitist New York way, someone from New York City) how someone not from the city would react to this novel or how they would even process it. I have walked exactly the streets the character has walked, visited the places he has visited, even experienced the same reactions to closure of stores like Tower Records on 65th Street. I experienced my own past as much as I experienced the narra ...more
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In OPEN CITY begleiten wir Julius bei seinen Streifzügen durch New York. Julius ist Anfang 30, schließt gerade seine Ausbildung zum Psychiater ab und streift auf ausgedehnten Spaziergängen durch die Stadt, ein Flaneur im 21. Jahrhundert.
Verbunden ist Julius durch Herkunft und Bildung mit Afrika, Europa und Amerika, ihrer Geschichte und ihrer Kultur. Er ist ein genauer Beobachter, der auch in unscheinbaren Details Stoff für Betrachtungen und Assoziationen findet. Er selbst sagt von sich, dass Un
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Радња романа прилично је једноставна – млади афроамериканац, специјализант психијатрије, као контрапункт свом стресном послу у болници започиње бесциљне (да ли?) шетње Њујорком. Подлога је урбани њујоршки пејзаж – његове галерије, концертне дворане, улице, паркови, подземна железница... Може се у позадини осетити живост метрополе. Међутим, он не само да корача, он и запажа људе, догађаје, ствари које се одвијају на улицама и, уопште, на јавним местима. Слике искрсавају једна за другом. Неке су и ...more
What a strange and surprising reading experience! This is the breakthrough book of Teju Cole, an American of Nigerian-German origin, and that mixed background has clearly left its mark on this work. Do not expect a clear storyline: Cole lets his main character Julius, a beginning psychiatrist, wander through New York, and also through Brussels, and he mainly lets him describe what he sees or experiences, very associative, sometimes very detailed and always with a lot of historical background inf ...more
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-experience
Open City, Teju Cole's début novel, is a strangely wonderful perambulatory reading experience: insightful, lyrical, decidedly modern and politically prescient. However despite it's numerous successes the overall novel feels a bit like an attempt. In Barthes' "The Death of the Author" he writes (which feels to me too perfect a description of the present novel to ignore):
The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centers of culture. Similar to Bouvard and Pécuchet, those eternal
Richard Derus
Apr 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Book Report: The annus horribilis of Julius, a Nigerian psych resident in Manhattan. He is estranged from his mother, his only surviving parent; never knew his German maternal grandmother; is alone and adrift in the cold (too cold for his tropical self) and cruel city. He responds to his recent loss of a girlfriend to the lures of San Francisco by walking. He lives in Morningside Heights, a small college town on Manhattan's far Upper West Side; he works his last year of residency at Columbia ...more
Ben Hinson
Teju Cole takes us into the mind of "Julius," the narrator throughout the entire journey that is Open City. Right from the onset one thing rings clear: Teju Cole's masterful use of words and phrases to poetic effect. And this perhaps is the strongest asset of the novel. I enjoyed some of the themes touched on through some of Julius's interactions (e.g. classism, racism, the power of propaganda). There were some beautiful contrasts (e.g. Robert DeNiro's smile and Farouq), and some great observati ...more
Proustitute (on review hiatus)
open city n. an undefended city; spec. a city declared to be unfortified and undefended and so, by international law, exempt from enemy attack.

Julius, a Nigerian psychiatrist living in Manhattan, is Teju Cole's humane, aesthetic, and highly observant narrator in Open City, a debut novel that has earned Cole comparisons to such heavyweights as Proust and Sebald. While Cole's project is similar in how he explores how our surroundings shape and inform our experiences, our subjective realities, and
Jul 25, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Open City' has been showered with five star reviews - and Cole has received numerous awards for it. Such lavish praise weighs heavily on you as a reader, you feel almost guilty for not absolutely loving the book. I confess to being bored, I found Julius, the main character, a young Nigerian (half German) doctor who walks the streets of New York to unwind, unlikeable, over-earnest, he has virtually no sense of humour. There are no moments of lightness.

This gets weary.

My impression is that the wr
This book is all about voice and viewpoint, and Teju Cole handles both with a special mastery. He gives us a story with little plot, told to us by Julius, a troubled, deeply flawed character. Julius is joined by other characters—friends, strangers, memories—and they provide contrast, but it is his thoughts and observances that we follow; his point of view.

It’s New York City, in the style of Peter Bruegel, but painted instead with words.
(a video on Cole’s G
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychogeography
I've ingested 180 pages this weekend and have been struck spellbound. Yes, the influence of Sebald pervades, but the book I am most reminded of is Zone by Mathias Enard.

It was the NYTBR which brought this seminal work to my attention. It is staggering, it is the deft employment of a inchoate mirror to our fractured lives.
Friederike Knabe
Feb 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-lit
"New York City worked itself into my life at walking pace..." This reads like an invitation to join an exploration of the place, its sounds and atmospheres, seen through the eyes of Julius, narrator of Teju Cole's debut novel, OPEN CITY. And it is! Julius is a German-Nigerian immigrant and works as a resident doctor in a NYC psychiatric clinic. As we follow him, meandering - initially aimlessly - through the streets in his neighbourhood and beyond, our eyes and minds are opened to much more than ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Read this again because I will go see the author speak on Wednesday. Still really love the walking bits and get a little distracted in the other bits. Cole's writing about music is stunning as well. His writing is fluid, and I'm looking forward to what comes next. ...more
Elizabeth Adams
Feb 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's here.

Teju Cole's novel, Open City, published by Random House, launches today in bookstores and through online vendors, to numerous rave and perceptive reviews.

That will be no surprise to readers of my blog, The Cassandra Pages, who've been privileged from time to time to read Teju's essays here, illustrated with his photographs. I am absolutely thrilled about the publication of this debut novel (those of us who read Every Day is For the Thief know that he previously wrote a novella.) But re
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Suzanne by: Torrance book club
A peripatetic meditation. Walk along with Julian as he wanders the streets of New York (and also at one point Brussels), musing about art, music, architecture, politics and race relations, history, nature, the immigrant experience, the patients he’s seen as a psychiatric resident at a NY hospital, his childhood in Nigeria, mental illness and sanity. He has conversations with friends, draws character sketches of people he encounters in his day-to-day life, relays their various stories, and keeps ...more
4.5 stars, really...two things kept it from being five for me: a scene with Moji towards the end of the book that wasn't convincing to me and the ending itself--it left me feeling unsatisfied. I'm still thinking about it, though.

Cole's prose is beautiful and easy to's melancholic and meditative. The narrator seems to be an outsider observing everything around him, yet the reader never quite knows what he thinks, what he really thinks, or how he is really experiencing much of what he te
James Murphy
Mar 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Open City reminds me of a couple of things. First of all, to me the prose reads like that of Kazuo Ishiguro. Its rhythms and textures are similar and just as beautiful. Second, one of the major themes, that of a man restlessly walking the streets of New York City, brings to mind Alfred Kazin's memoir of coming of age in the '30s, A Walker in the City. Teju Cole's peripatetic protagonist, Julius, is a resident in psychiatry who wanders the city's streets in search of release from the tensions of ...more
Chris Kepner
marked it as to-read
Jul 15, 2010
added it
Jul 29, 2010
Aug 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"And so when I began to go on evening walks last fall, I found Morningside Heights an easy place from which to set out into the city."

So this singular novel begins, and so too does the journey into a mind steadying itself on the supports of a brooding New York City. Julius is a startling, searching narrator who builds up his varied histories the way we all do--relying on an assiduous, rhythmic accumulation (and excising) of detail outlining who we wish to be, who we think we are, who we once we
Nov 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! One of the best debut novels I've ever read. The beauty of the writing was enough to win the book at least 4 stars, but this is one of those books that when you get to the end you want to go back and start over, this time with pen and paper. Amazing, amazing, amazing! ...more
marked it as to-read
Nov 02, 2010
marked it as to-read
Nov 05, 2010
Ryan Mishap
Nov 13, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
An intriguing inner journey posed first as outward travel around New York and Brussels. While things happen and places are visited, the novel is in the head of Julius, in his last year of a psychiatric residency. This man who would work to help those with mental troubles knows much: about the history of New York, events around the world, classical music, and growing up in Nigeria the son of a Nigerian father and German mother. He doesn't seem to know himself, however.

Questions of identity, fitti
marked it as to-read
Nov 16, 2010
I loved this right up to the end which I found supremely unsatisfying.
Louise Sullivan
marked it as to-read
Nov 26, 2010
marked it as to-read
Nov 29, 2010
Jenny Roth
marked it as to-read
Dec 01, 2010
marked it as to-read
Dec 03, 2010
marked it as to-read
Dec 05, 2010
rated it really liked it
Dec 07, 2010
marked it as to-read
Dec 16, 2010
I had a sociology professior once explain "home" to me like this... when you travel to another city in WI and you meet someone from Milwaukee, you are excited to meet someone from home. When you travel to another state in the country and you meet someone from Wisconsin, you see someone from home. When you travel to Canada and meet another American, you met someone from home. Cole gives us insight into not only what it feels like to have others from Africa talk to him about being "brothers" but a ...more
marked it as to-read
Dec 21, 2010
Dec 22, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm giving up on this one. It made me want to re-read "Making Toast," a memoir by Roger Rosenblatt, so I did that instead, and I haven't felt any urge to return to it. ...more
Brian Sansom
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Dec 26, 2010
rated it it was amazing
Dec 28, 2010
Rachel Weeden
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Jason Paulios
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21st Century Lite...: Open City--Spoiler thread (Aug 2018) 24 40 Sep 10, 2018 06:46PM  
21st Century Lite...: Open City-Welcome--No spoilers (Aug 2018) 30 45 Aug 22, 2018 07:27AM  
Rape??? 10 512 Aug 01, 2018 11:58AM  
Great African Reads: Cole: Open City | (CL) first read: Apr 2013 24 57 May 28, 2013 07:08AM  

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I was born to Nigerian parents and grew up in Lagos. My mother taught French. My father was a business executive who exported chocolate. The first book I read (I was six) was an abridgment of Tom Sawyer. At fifteen I published cartoons regularly in Prime People, Nigeria’s version of Vanity Fair. Two years later I moved to the United States.

Since then, I’ve spent most of my time studying art histor

Articles featuring this book

A young Nigerian-German doctor restlessly wanders the streets of Manhattan in the introspective novel Open City. Cole shares some evocative...
22 likes · 21 comments
“To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.” 43 likes
“Each neighborhood of the city appeared to be made of a different substance, each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight: the bright lights and shuttered shops, the housing projects and luxury hotels, the fire escapes and city parks.” 38 likes
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