Up Late with Teju Cole’s Open City

Let’s face it, just like my students, sometimes I develop crushes…except for me, these are literary crushes.  For a while, I was a little in love with Neil Gaiman.  Then I crushed on Richard Russo, which only let up when I moved on to Neal Stephenson.  More recently I was totally into Colson Whitehead, but he since been replaced by my current crush: Teju Cole.  I first found him on twitter, and then decided I needed to read Open City. This is one of the more cerebral novels I’ve read lately, and I tried to savor it rather than devour it, the way I normally do with books. So many reasons to celebrate this book–one being the reference to my favorite Hamlet line: “the birds in flight were proof that we, too, were under heaven’s protection, that there is indeed a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

There are few books that delve into philosophy, art, death, identity, politics, and life in the way this one does. The narrator, a young Nigerian psychologist, walks through the streets of New York, and interacts with the denizens of the city, all the while contemplating his interactions. 

One of my favorite elements of the storyline was the friendship Julius had with Saito, his former English professor. The visits Julius had with him made me think about my own future, and wonder if someday I might have former students visit me when I am in old age, failing in health, but strong in mind. 

It isn’t just the content of this text that made Teju Cole my new literary crush–the style was transfixing and simultaneously energizing. His use of language with such precision, joy, and novelty enchanted me. I especially loved the motif of birds–he bookends the story with images of birds in the city. I think, perhaps, the birds are the most significant motif woven throughout, when I look back at that Hamlet quote he slid in there. 

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in art, thought, language, and just a good book to marinate about even when you’re not reading it.  

  Posted by Kate, VP Secondary Schools k1a9t7e5


Up Late with Teju Cole’s Open City

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