Open City

Open City, Teju Cole

Open City notes

We experience life as a continuity, and only after it falls away, after it becomes the past, do we see its discontinuities. 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 an outsize intensity.

from Open City by Teju Cole

It seems to me now, that to hear anything about this book before reading it would be to profoundly change your experience of it. Perhaps this is true of all books, but I think it is especially so here.

So, don’t think of this as a review, don’t even think of it as my thoughts on the book; just think of someone pressing it into your hands, someone pointing you in its direction.

What more can I say, without saying anything, to help you know that it’s the book for you? You might know that you have to read Teju Cole, as I did, by reading this. Or you might want to feel as I did when I closed it: profoundly shaken, complicit, knowing that I too had not got away unscathed.


And when you’ve read Open City, this interview with Teju Cole is brilliant. (But note that it contains spoilers.)


6 thoughts on “Open City

  1. I’ve been meaning to read this book for quite some time. My friend Isabelle taught it for the Writers Studio Craft Class a couple springs ago, and I always like her selections. So. I finished it last night. I knew that there was going to be a surprise at the ending that I wasn’t going to like, and it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I feel complicit in something horrible.

    Perhaps, though, you would like Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. Isabelle also taught this one for the Craft Class, and I really enjoyed it. Its narrator is quite different from Julius, but, like Julius, he is a flâneur of sorts (a connection I would not have made without this essay, which has spoilers:

    I am curious about your notebook. Do you keep such notes on all or many of the books that you read?

    • Rachael, yes, an overwhelming feeling of complicity was just what I felt. I hadn’t heard anything about the book, and so ending came as a real surprise. I felt like I’d forgotten how to read, forgotten that there could be such a thing as an ‘unreliable’ narrator. And the notes kind of go hand in hand with that — the kind of detailed collecting of references and trails that I might make if I had been reading an essay rather than a novel. I was just so seduced by Julius & his ideas & endless references.

      So, yes, I often make notes, but not usually to that extent. I jot down words or places to look up — which I sometimes still don’t follow up — and I’m addicted to those little sticky flags for page marking, but those are usually just for beautiful or memorable passages that I later copy into a notebook or type up. Other people’s notes and marginalia are just endlessly fascinating, aren’t they?

      Thanks so much for the book recommendation & link to the essay. I’m definitely up for another *flâneur*! (In fact, I think it was partly the similarity to Sebald that put me off track with Open City…)

      On 18 August 2014 15:44, edge of evening wrote:


  2. Pingback: Leaving the Atocha Station | edge of evening

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