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Publisher's Summary

Acclaimed author Teju Cole’s writing has appeared in numerous journals in Nigeria and the United States. His second novel, Open City is the story of a Nigerian-German psychiatrist making a living in New York City five years after the Twin Towers were destroyed. The tale emerges as a rich and unforgettable meditation of life and culture.

©2011 Teju Cole (P)2011 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

"Reminiscent of the works of W.G. Sebald, this dreamy, incantatory debut was the most beautiful novel I read this year—the kind of book that remains on your nightstand long after you finish so that you can continue dipping in occasionally as a nighttime consolation." (Ruth Franklin, The New Republic)
"A psychological hand grenade." (Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic, Best Books I Read This Year)
“A meditative and startlingly clear-eyed first novel.” (Newsweek/Daily Beast Writers’ Favorite Books 2011)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.6 out of 5.0
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  • Story
  • Eric
  • FERNDALE, MI, United States
  • 02-27-12

A Rich Tapestry

Under the guise of young professional's straying thoughts as he walks New York (and later, Amsterdam), Cole weaves a complex world, combining thoughts on the world (everything from bed bugs to economic collapse), personal memoir, happenstance conversations, history and the world around him. As in the movie "The Waking Life", long passages of the novel are incidental monologues that characters seem to recite to the narrator, almost unprompted.

Open City rewards patience. On a minute, paragraph by paragraph scale, Cole's laconic plotting might seem aimless, but rich themes bubble to the fore of each chapter, and larger themes invite probing and relistening as you dig into the book. Cole paints a complex but vivid character, a man who seems to accomplish much but dreams so much more. Yet, you'll see, he isn't quite an angel.

I enjoyed this book greatly. It has its conceits - why does everyone open themselves up so unreservedly to this mysterious narrator? - but the tapestry of thoughts, conversations and dreamlike action, all told with gorgeous prose, was intoxicating. I've actually found it's rich world worth exploring again with a relisten.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Irene
  • Portage, Michigan, United States
  • 05-03-12

Stream of consciousness novel

It was interesting, though unusual. Cole's descriptions of places and people made it easy to visualize them.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary
  • Canada
  • 01-24-12

Great book

What made the experience of listening to Open City the most enjoyable?

This is a great book. It is thoughtful and insightful. The writing is beautiful and the images of New York are great.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Lyrical at times, but also frustrating

I really wanted to like Open City, but ultimately found this book rather frustrating. Teju Cole's other writing can be wonderful, so I had high expectations. The title is great, and I was initially drawn to the portrait of Manhattan at a particular moment in time (early 2000s). I began reading this book in print, then switched over to kindle for a bit, and finally read the whole thing as audiobook. Kevin Mambo reads in an engaging, fluid way that captures the variety of accents embedded in this book.

As other reviewers have noted, the main character in Open City comes across as self-involved, even arrogant at times. Not sure if this quality was intended by the author, but that is how it comes across. At first I wasn't sure if this was a result of the reader's inflections, or the actual writing, but when I looked back at the book in print, I felt that Mambo had indeed represented the character, as written, accurately.

Since the main character's narration dominates the book, it's hard not to notice that his assigned occupation -- medical resident -- doesn't fit very credibly with the book's premise of wandering through NYC and Europe. Graduate students in some fields might well have that kind of unstructured time while writing dissertations, and may even need to do it for their research, but it's hard to believe that an active medical resident at a competitive university hospital, far uptown in NYC, would have so much free time to wander the streets of lower Manhattan, aimlessly ride the subway, or depart on sudden stints of personal travel abroad. I found this detail of the narrator's occupation increasingly distracting over the course of the book, and almost stopped reading because of it. But I pressed on to the end since the book contained some other qualities that held my interest -- his vivid conversations with an internet / phone shop manager, and the intriguing bits of family history that seem to promise some kind of revelation (which never really materializes).

At many points, the book has a surreal dreamlike effect that evokes Kafka's Amerika. (So, maybe the irreality of the narrator's occupation was intentional?) But that effect is continually offset by long stretches of random information that too often feel like half-digested internet searches. That's a pity, because Open City otherwise contains some beautiful lyrical sentences about looking and seeing, about people in cities, about America, especially near the end - a reminder of Cole's other vocation as an art historian.

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  • Andrea
  • Providence, RI, United States
  • 06-23-17

Not for me

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I listened for about two hours and then gave up. I am usually all for a "flaneur-esque" narratives that meander through city spaces, but with this one I couldn't see the point or why I should care. The observations, to me, seemed as if they were meant to be profound but really weren't. I appreciate the idea of chance encounters as the narrator makes is way through NYC but it just didn't work for me.

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Walk Along

The "story" here as rather intriguing. I had some issues with the actor's voice, though. Many times it seemed he was thinking too hard about the words he was saying, pausing to annunciate everything. Also, he seemed to get a sore throat partway through one of the final chapters.

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  • Cy
  • 07-11-15

Great book and narrator

This book moved me so that I listened to it on audible and then bought the hard copy. The main character Julius is so fractured and human that he remains in my mind long after I've finished the book. Kevin Mambo as narrator kept me submerged in this complex text. I hope Mambo narrates another book very soon.

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Made me think

This story blossoms a thought process around several global issues while offering very little plot and no closure. The writing is so excellent that I still give it 4 stars.

  • Overall

Never pulled me in...

Although the writing (reading in this case) was lyrical and well done, it just never grabbed my attention. I kept waiting for something to happen and nothing did. The ramblings were occasionally moderately interesting but not much else. If you like differently told stories and literary fiction then you will likely enjoy this as it seems to be much celebrated. Although the narration was great, the book just didn't do it for me.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Passable

This looked very much like the kind of book I like, but I was not thrilled by it. I was first worried when I found the first section stiff and boring...but I don't love discussions of classical music, so I thought maybe that's why I was not listening intently. The middle part got more interesting, but any insights into the narrator and his dilemmas were either incomplete hints, or too subtle for me to follow. There is a lot of potentially interesting stuff to come from exploring the relationships between the Nigerian/German narrator and various other expatriates, and African Americans in NYC, but this stuff was more academic than integrated into a story. Overall this novel felt like a lot of connective tissue had been removed for the sake of a leaner book, and that it might have been better if it hadn't been so whittled down. I was also misled by the idea that NYC was a major part of the story, which it is not--at least not the way it is in Colum McCann's novel Let the Great World Spin. (It may be that reading the latter while listening to this really put Cole at a disadvantage.)

2 of 4 people found this review helpful