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Ciudad abierta

Ciudad abierta

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Ciudad abierta

valoraciones:
3.5/5 (16 valoraciones)
Longitud:
307 páginas
6 horas
Editorial:
Publicado:
Oct 1, 2012
ISBN:
9788415277958
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Julius, un joven psiquiatra nigeriano residente en un hospital neoyorquino, deambula por las calles de Manhattan. Caminar sin rumbo se convierte en una necesidad que le brinda la oportunidad de dejar la mente libre en un devaneo entre la literatura, el arte o la música, sus relaciones personales, el pasado y el presente. En sus paseos explora cada rincón de la ciudad. Pero Julius no sólo recorre un espacio físico, sino también aquel en el que se entretejen otras muchas voces que le interpelan. Ciudad abierta, novela bellísima y envolvente, supone el descubrimiento de una voz tan original y sutil como extraordinaria.

"Esta es una novela distinta. Es distinta en estructura, en la amplicación del punto de vista y en su escritura, lo cual es como decir que estamos ante un libro extraordinariamente sugestivo y un verdadero derroche de arrojo literario. Ciudad abierta representa un logro memorable".
José María Guelbenzu, El País
Editorial:
Publicado:
Oct 1, 2012
ISBN:
9788415277958
Formato:
Libro

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Ciudad abierta - Teju Cole

TEJU COLE

CIUDAD ABIERTA

TRADUCCIÓN DEL INGLÉS

DE MARCELO COHEN

ACANTILADO

BARCELONA 2012

Para Karen

y para Wah-Ming y Beth

PRIMERA PARTE

LA MUERTE ES UNA PERFECCIÓN DEL OJO

UNO

Y así, cuando el otoño pasado empecé a dar largos paseos vespertinos, Morning Heights me pareció un lugar cómodo desde donde internarme en la ciudad. El sendero que baja desde la catedral de St. John the Divine y cruza Morningside Park está a sólo quince minutos de Central Park. En la otra dirección, hacia el oeste, hay diez minutos hasta Sakura Park, y doblando desde allí hacia el norte se va a Harlem a lo largo del Hudson, aunque el tráfico impide oír el río que corre al otro lado de los árboles. Estos paseos, contrapunto a mis ajetreados días en el hospital, se dilataban constantemente y, como cada vez se extendían más, a menudo me encontraba muy lejos de casa bien avanzada la noche y por fuerza tenía que volver en metro. De este modo, al comienzo del último año de mi beca de psiquiatría, Nueva York fue tramándose en mi vida a ritmo de caminata.

No mucho antes de que empezaran los vagabundeos, yo había caído en el hábito de observar desde mi apartamento a las aves migratorias, y ahora me pregunto si no había un vínculo entre ambas costumbres. Las tardes que volvía del hospital con tiempo, solía mirar por la ventana, como quien busca augurios, esperando ver el milagro de la migración natural. Siempre que divisaba una formación de gansos surcando el cielo me preguntaba cómo se vería nuestra vida desde su perspectiva e imaginaba que, si se hubieran permitido especular algo semejante, tal vez los rascacielos les habrían parecido abetos apretados en un bosque. Muchas veces al otear el cielo no veía más que lluvia, o la estela tenue de un avión como una bisectriz en la ventana, y una parte de mí dudaba de que esas aves, con sus alas y cuellos oscuros, sus cuerpos pálidos y sus corazoncitos incansables, existieran de verdad. Me dejaban tan pasmado que cuando no estaban allí yo no podía confiar en el recuerdo.

De vez en cuando volaban palomas, o bien gorriones, oropéndolas, tanagras o vencejos, aunque era imposible reconocer pájaros en aquellas motas minúsculas, solitarias y normalmente incoloras que burbujeaban en el cielo. Mientras esperaba a los raros escuadrones de gansos, a veces escuchaba la radio. En general evitaba las emisoras de Estados Unidos, que para mi gusto tenían demasiada publicidad—Beethoven seguido de equipos de esquí, Wagner después de un queso artesanal—y sintonizaba en internet emisoras de Canadá, Alemania u Holanda. Y aunque a menudo no entendía a los presentadores, dada mi defectuosa comprensión de sus idiomas, las programaciones siempre coincidían muy exactamente con mi ánimo vespertino. Mucha música me resultaba familiar, ávido oyente de radios clásicas como había sido yo por más de catorce años, pero parte de ella era nueva. También había inusitados momentos de asombro, como la primera vez que oí, en una emisora que emitía desde Hamburgo, una pieza cautivadora para contratenor y orquesta de Shchedrin (o tal vez fuera de Ysaÿe) que hasta el día de hoy he sido incapaz de identificar.

Me gustaba el murmullo de los locutores, el sonido sereno que llegaba desde miles de kilómetros de distancia. Bajando el volumen de los altavoces del ordenador, miraba afuera, acurrucado en el solaz que ofrecían las voces, y no me costaba comparar mi situación en un apartamento exiguo con la del presentador o la presentadora en su cabina radiofónica en lo que debía ser la medianoche de algún lugar de Europa. Todavía hoy en mi mente aquellas voces incorpóreas están conectadas con la aparición de los gansos que emigran. No es que en realidad haya alcanzado a ver las migraciones más de tres o cuatro veces en total: lo que veía la mayoría de las tardes eran los colores crepusculares del cielo, sus azules de pólvora, sus rubores sucios, sus óxidos, todos los cuales paulatinamente dejaban paso a la sombra profunda. Cuando se hacía de noche tomaba un libro y leía a la luz de una vieja lámpara de mesa que había rescatado de uno de los contenedores de la universidad; la bola de vidrio que encapuchaba la lamparilla teñía de una luz verdosa mis manos, el libro, el deslucido tapizado del sofá. A veces incluso leía en voz alta, y al hacerlo notaba lo extrañamente que mi voz se mezclaba con el murmullo de los locutores radiofónicos franceses, alemanes u holandeses, o con la fina textura de los violines de las orquestas, todo esto intensificado por el hecho de que, cualquiera que fuese el libro que estaba leyendo, probablemente había sido traducido de alguna lengua europea. Aquel verano yo erraba de libro en libro: La cámara lúcida de Barthes, los Telegramas del alma de Peter Altenberg, El último amigo de Tahar Ben Jelloun entre otros.

En medio de esa fuga sonora me acordaba de san Agustín asombrado ante san Ambrosio, quien parece que había descubierto una manera de leer sin pronunciar las palabras. La verdad, es muy extraño—se me ocurre ahora, como se me ocurrió entonces—que podamos comprender las palabras sin decirlas. Para Agustín, el peso y la vida interior de las frases se experimentaba mejor en voz alta, pero desde entonces nuestra idea de la lectura ha cambiado mucho. Hace demasiado tiempo que se nos enseña que la visión de un hombre hablando consigo mismo es un signo de excentricidad o de locura, hemos perdido totalmente el hábito de oír nuestras voces, como no sea en una conversación o protegida por una multitud vociferante. Pero un libro es una sugerencia de conversar: una persona le habla a otra, y en ese intercambio el sonido audible es o debería ser natural. Así que yo leía en voz alta, teniéndome como público, y daba voz a las palabras de otro.

Como fuese, esas inusuales horas nocturnas pasaban fácilmente y con frecuencia me quedaba dormido en el sofá, y sólo mucho más tarde me arrastraba hasta la cama, por lo general alrededor de medianoche. Luego, después de lo que siempre me parecían meros minutos de sueño, el despertador de mi móvil, que estaba programado con un bizarro arreglo de O Tannenbaum para una suerte de marimba, me despertaba de un brinco. En los primeros momentos de conciencia, en el resplandor súbito de la luz matinal, mi mente se perseguía a sí misma recordando fragmentos de sueños o pasajes del libro que había estado leyendo antes de dormirme. Para romper la monotonía de esas veladas empecé a hacer caminatas dos o tres días laborables, después del trabajo, y al menos uno los fines de semana.

Al principio las calles me parecían una estridencia incesante, un estremecimiento después de la concentración y la relativa tranquilidad de la jornada, como si algo hubiera destrozado la calma de una capilla privada con el estrépito de un televisor. Urdía mi camino entre muchedumbres de compradores y trabajadores, obras viales y cláxones de taxi. Caminar por zonas concurridas de la ciudad significaba poner los ojos en más personas, en cientos, miles incluso, que las que yo estaba acostumbrado a ver durante un día, pero el impacto de esas caras no aliviaba en absoluto mi sensación de aislamiento sino que más bien la intensificaba. También empecé a estar más cansado después de iniciar las caminatas: era un agotamiento diferente de cualquiera que hubiese conocido desde los primeros meses de prácticas de residencia, tres años antes. Una noche sencillamente seguí andando más y más, sin parar, hasta la calle Houston, una distancia de unos diez kilómetros, y en un estado de fatiga desorientada me encontré pugnando por mantenerme en pie. Esa noche volví a casa en metro y, en vez de dormirme enseguida, estuve tendido en la cama, demasiado exhausto para liberarme de la vigilia, repasando a oscuras los numerosos incidentes y visiones que había tenido mientras vagaba, disponiendo cada encuentro como un niño que juega con bloques de madera, tratando de dilucidar dónde encajaban, cuál era el sitio de cada uno. Cada barrio de la ciudad parecía de una sustancia distinta, cada uno tenía una presión atmosférica diferente, su propia carga sicológica: las luces brillantes y las tiendas cerradas, los edificios de viviendas y los hoteles de lujo, las escaleras de incendio y los parques. La fútil tarea de ordenamiento se prolongaba hasta que las formas empezaban a ensamblarse y adoptar formas abstractas sin relación con la ciudad real, y sólo entonces el frenesí de mi mente mostraba cierta piedad, y se aquietaba, y dejaba paso a un sueño sin sueños.

Las caminatas satisfacían una necesidad: eran un desahogo respecto de la estrecha regulación del medio mental del trabajo y, no bien descubrí su calidad terapéutica, se volvieron cosa normal y olvidé cómo había sido la vida antes de empezar a andar. El trabajo era un régimen de perfección y competencia, ninguna de las cuales permitía improvisaciones ni toleraba errores. Por interesante que fuese mi proyecto de investigación—llevaba a cabo un estudio clínico de trastornos afectivos en personas mayores—, el grado de detalle que demandaba era de una complejidad que excedía todo lo que había hecho hasta entonces. De modo que las calles constituían una bienvenida réplica a las horas de trabajo. Ninguna decisión—dónde doblar a la izquierda, cuánto quedarse absorto frente a un edificio abandonado, ver el sol poniéndose en Nueva Jersey o bajar por la penumbra del East Side mirando hacia Queens— tenía consecuencias, y por esto mismo cada una era un recordatorio de libertad. Recorría las manzanas de la ciudad como si las midiera a zancadas, y en mi avance sin rumbo las estaciones de metro oficiaban de motivos recurrentes. Ver grandes masas de gente corriendo hacia cámaras subterráneas siempre me resultaba extraño, y sentía que la raza humana entera, llevada por el contrarreflejo de una pulsión de muerte, se precipitaba en catacumbas móviles. Por encima del suelo yo estaba con otros miles, cada uno en soledad, pero en el metro, apretado contra extraños, empujándolos y empujado por ellos en disputas por espacio y por aire, todos poniendo en escena traumas inconfesados, la soledad se intensificaba.

Un domingo de noviembre por la mañana, tras un recorrido por las calles relativamente tranquilas del Upper West Side, llegué a la amplia, soleada plaza de Columbus Circle. Últimamente la zona había cambiado. Se había vuelto más comercial y turística gracias al par de edificios que había erigido la empresa Time Warner. Construidos a gran velocidad, los edificios acababan de inaugurarse y estaban llenos de tiendas de camisas a medida, trajes de diseño, joyas, utensilios para cocina sibarita, accesorios de cuero hechos a mano y artículos decorativos importados. En los pisos superiores, algunos de los restaurantes más caros de la ciudad ofrecían trufas, caviar, ternera Kobe y costosos «menús de degustación». Sobre los restaurantes había algunos de los apartamentos de alquiler más caros de Manhattan. Una o dos veces yo había entrado por curiosidad en los comercios de la planta baja, pero el precio de los artículos, y lo que percibía como una atmósfera en general esnob, me habían disuadido de volver hasta aquella mañana de domingo.

Era el día del maratón de Nueva York. Yo no lo sabía. Me desconcertó ver que frente a las torres de cristal la plaza redonda desbordaba de gente, una multitud enorme, expectante, que se apretaba cerca de la meta de la carrera. Desde la plaza, bordeando la calle, la muchedumbre también se prolongaba hacia el este. Más cerca del oeste había una carpa donde dos hombres afinaban sus guitarras, llamando y respondiendo cada uno a las plateadas notas del instrumento amplificado del otro. Estandartes, letreros, pósters, banderas e insignias de todo tipo flameaban al viento, y algunos policías montados en caballos con anteojeras regulaban la multitud acordonando la zona, silbando y gesticulando. Los policías llevaban uniforme azul oscuro y gafas negras. La multitud vestía de colores brillantes y el reflejo del sol en tanta tela sintética verde, roja, amarilla y blanca hería los ojos. Para escapar del bullicio, que al parecer iba en aumento, decidí entrar en el centro comercial. Aparte de los locales de Hugo Boss y Armani, en la segunda planta había una librería. Tal vez allí dentro, pensé, pudiera encontrar cierto silencio y tomar una taza de café antes de volver a casa. Pero en la entrada se agolpaba parte de la multitud que había rebasado la calle y los cordones impedían entrar en la torre.

Cambié de idea y resolví visitar entonces a un viejo profesor mío que vivía en un apartamento de Central Park South, a menos de diez minutos a pie. A sus ochenta y nueve años, el profesor Saito era la persona más anciana que yo conocía. Me había cobijado bajo su ala cuando yo cursaba el penúltimo año en Maxwell. Por entonces él ya era emérito, aunque continuaba yendo al campus todos los días. Algo que debió de ver en mí le hizo pensar que confiarme su selecto tema de estudio (literatura inglesa temprana) no sería un desperdicio. En este sentido yo fui un fiasco, pero, puesto que él tenía buen corazón, me invitó, aun después de que yo no lograse una nota decente en su seminario de literatura inglesa anterior a Shakespeare, a reunirnos varias veces en su despacho. Como poco tiempo atrás se había instalado allí una ruidosa máquina de café, tomábamos unas tazas y conversábamos: sobre interpretaciones del Beowulf, y más tarde sobre los clásicos, la tarea interminable del erudito, las variadas consolaciones de la academia y los estudios del profesor antes de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Este tema era tan absolutamente lejano a mi experiencia que acaso era el que más me interesaba. La guerra había estallado justo cuando él estaba a punto de doctorarse en filosofía, y había tenido que dejar Inglaterra para volver junto a su familia, en el noroeste del Pacífico. Con ellos, poco después, iría a parar al campo de internamiento de Minidoka, en Idaho.

En esas conversaciones, tal como las recuerdo ahora, solía ser él quien hablaba. Yo aprendí a su lado el arte de escuchar y adquirí la capacidad de deducir una historia de lo que se omitía. Aunque rara vez el profesor Saito me contaba algo de su familia, me habló de su vida como erudito y de cómo había respondido a cuestiones importantes de su época. En la década de 1970 había hecho una traducción anotada de Pedro el labrador que le había deparado su éxito académico más notable. Cuando lo mencionaba era con una curiosa mezcla de orgullo y decepción. Solía aludir a otro proyecto grande (no decía sobre qué) que no había completado nunca. También hablaba de política en el departamento. Me acuerdo de que una tarde se sumió en reminiscencias de una antigua colega cuyo nombre para mí no significaba nada y hoy no podría repetir. En la época de los derechos civiles aquella mujer se había hecho famosa por su activismo y había alcanzado, por un momento, tal celebridad en el campus que sus clases de literatura se llenaban. El profesor Saito la describió como una individualidad inteligente y sensible, con la cual sin embargo él nunca había podido concordar. Sentía por ella admiración y disgusto. Me desconcierta esto, recuerdo que dijo: era una buena estudiosa, y estaba del lado justo en las luchas del momento, pero en persona yo simplemente no la soportaba. Era hiriente y egoísta, que en paz descanse. Pero aquí no puedes decir una palabra en contra de ella. La siguen considerando una santa.

Una vez nos hubimos hecho amigos, me propuse ver al profesor Saito dos o tres veces cada semestre y en mis dos últimos años en Maxwell esos encuentros se convirtieron en mojones que yo guardaba en el corazón. Llegué a ver su figura como la de un abuelo completamente diferente de los míos (de los cuales había conocido sólo a uno). Pensaba que tenía más cosas en común con él que con los familiares que me había dado el azar. Después de graduarme, cuando me marché primero a hacer mi trabajo de investigación en Cold Spring Harbor, luego al colegio de medicina de Madison, perdimos el contacto. Intercambiamos una o dos cartas, pero en ese medio casi no era posible mantener las mismas conversaciones, ya que la sustancia de nuestra interacción no era ponernos al día ni intercambiar noticias. Pero cuando volví a la ciudad para hacer la residencia hospitalaria lo vi varias veces. La primera, totalmente casual —aunque sucedió un día en que había estado pensando en él—, fue en la puerta de una tienda de comestibles no lejos de Central Park South, adonde él había ido a caminar ayudado por una asistente. Más tarde me presenté en su apartamento sin anunciarme, como él me había invitado a que hiciera, y descubrí que seguía manteniendo la política de puerta franca que había observado en su despacho del college. Ahora la máquina de café de aquella oficina yacía en desuso en un rincón de la sala. El profesor Saito me dijo que tenía cáncer de próstata. No lo extenuaba del todo, pero no iba más al campus y había empezado a recibir en su casa. El intercambio social se le había reducido en una medida que debía de dolerle: el número de visitantes que se alegraba de ver había ido cayendo sin cesar, y ahora la mayoría de las visitas eran enfermeras o terapeutas a domicilio.

Saludé al portero en el vestíbulo oscuro, de techo bajo, y subí en el ascensor al tercer piso. Cuando entré en el piso el profesor Saito me llamó. Estaba sentado al fondo de la sala, cerca de las grandes ventanas, y me indicó que ocupara la silla que había enfrente de él. Tenía la vista débil pero el oído tan fino como en nuestro primer encuentro, cuando apenas había cumplido setenta y siete. Ahora, ovillado en un sillón amplio y mullido, envuelto en mantas, parecía una de esas personas que se sumergen en la segunda infancia. Sólo que no era en absoluto el caso: como el oído, Saito mantenía la mente aguda y, cuando sonrió, las arrugas se extendieron por toda la cara hasta surcar la piel de la frente, fina como papel. En aquella habitación, donde siempre parecía fluir una amable y fresca luz boreal, estaba rodeado del arte de toda una vida de coleccionista. Media docena de máscaras polinesias, dispuestas por encima de su cabeza, formaban un gran halo oscuro. En uno de los rincones se alzaba la figura de un ancestro papuano, de tamaño natural, con dientes de madera tallados uno por uno y una falda de hierba que apenas escondía un pene erecto. Una vez el profesor Saito había dicho: adoro los monstruos imaginarios, pero los reales me aterrorizan.

Por las ventanas que ocupaban todo aquel lado de la sala se veía la calle umbría. Más allá estaba el parque, demarcado por un viejo muro de piedra. Acababa de sentarme cuando desde la calle llegó un clamor: me incorporé de inmediato y abajo vi a un hombre corriendo en solitario por el pasillo que había creado el gentío. Llevaba una camiseta dorada y guantes negros que no sé cómo le llegaban hasta el codo, como una dama en traje de fiesta, y, alentado por las ovaciones, estaba esprintando con una energía renovada. Con ese vigor corría hacia la carpa de los músicos, hacia la multitud ferviente, hacia la línea de llegada y el sol.

Ven, siéntate, siéntate. Tosiendo, el profesor Saito señalaba la silla. Cuéntame cómo te va, yo he estado enfermo, ¿sabes?, la semana pasada fue muy mala, pero ahora me encuentro mejor. A mi edad uno se enferma mucho. Cuéntame, ¿y tú cómo estás, cómo estás? Fuera el ruido volvió a arreciar y luego amainó. Vi el trazo raudo de dos corredores, dos negros. Kenianos, supuse. Cada año es lo mismo, y ya son casi quince, dijo el profesor Saito. Si el día del maratón tengo que salir, uso la salida de atrás. Pero yo ya no salgo mucho, no con eso pegado, prendido a mí como la cola a un perro. Mientras yo me sentaba, señaló la bolsa transparente que colgaba de una pequeña varilla de metal. Estaba llena de orina, y un tubo de plástico la conectaba con algún punto oculto bajo las mantas. Ayer me trajeron caquis, unos caquis preciosos, firmes. ¿Quieres unos? De veras, ¡tienes que probarlos! ¡Mary! Por el pasillo apareció la enfermera, una mujer del Santa Lucía de edad mediana, alta, fornida, que yo había conocido en otras visitas. Mary, por favor, ¿le traerías unos caquis a nuestro huésped? Cuando la mujer entró en la cocina, Saito dijo: Últimamente me cuesta un poco masticar, Julius, así que algo tan sabroso y accesible como un caqui es perfecto. Pero ya basta. ¿Tú como estás? ¿Cómo va tu trabajo?

Mi presencia le daba energías. Le conté algo sobre los paseos, y me pidió que le contara más, pero yo no estaba en entera posesión de lo que intentaba decir sobre el territorio solitario que había estado atravesando mi mente. Así que le conté uno de mis últimos casos. Había tenido que atender a una familia de cristianos conservadores, pentecostalistas, que me había derivado un pediatra del hospital. Al hijo de trece años, hijo único, iban a someterlo a un tratamiento de leucemia que entrañaba un serio riesgo de esterilidad. El pediatra les aconsejaba que hicieran congelar y almacenar algo de semen del muchacho, de modo que cuando llegase a adulto y se casase pudiese inseminar a su mujer artificialmente y tuviera hijos propios. Si bien los padres aceptaban la idea de guardar esperma, y no tenían nada contra la inseminación artificial, se oponían resueltamente, por razones religiosas, a permitir que su hijo se masturbara. Para este rompecabezas no había solución quirúrgica directa. La familia estaba en crisis. Consultaron conmigo, y tras unas pocas sesiones y mucho rezar, decidieron arriesgarse a no tener nietos. Sencillamente no podían dejar que su hijo cometiera lo que llamaban pecado de onanismo.

El profesor Saito meneó la cabeza, y noté que había disfrutado con la historia, que el cariz raro y desdichado de la misma lo había divertido (y turbado) tanto como a mí. La gente elige, dijo, la gente elige, y elige en nombre de los otros. Y fuera del trabajo, ¿qué? ¿Qué estás leyendo? Sobre todo revistas médicas, dije, y también muchas cosas interesantes que empiezo y por alguna razón soy incapaz de acabar. No bien compro un libro nuevo, me está reprochando que lo deje sin leer. Yo tampoco leo mucho, dijo él, con los ojos como los tengo, pero ya había almacenado bastante aquí. Se señaló la cabeza. En realidad estoy lleno. Nos reímos, y justo entonces Mary entró con los caquis en un plato de porcelana. Comí la mitad de uno, era un poco demasiado dulce. Comí la otra mitad y le di las gracias.

Durante la guerra, dijo él, confié muchos poemas a mi memoria. Supongo que hoy en las escuelas ya no existen esas esperanzas. Cuando estaba en Maxwell presencié el cambio, la poca preparación de este tipo que tenían las nuevas generaciones. Para esos jóvenes, memorizar era una diversión agradable, parte de una asignatura específica; para sus mayores, treinta o cuarenta años antes, había habido un vínculo fuerte con la vida de los poemas, que venía de haber memorizado varios. Ya antes de entrar en una clase universitaria de literatura inglesa, los de primer año tenían una relación con un corpus de poesía. A mí, en los cuarenta, la capacidad de memorizar me era muy útil: recurría a ella porque no estaba seguro de que volviera a ver mis libros, y además en el campo no había gran cosa que hacer. Lo que estaba pasando nos desorientaba mucho, nosotros éramos estadounidenses, siempre nos habíamos considerado estadounidenses, no japoneses. Hubo un tiempo largo de espera confusa, más dura para los padres, pienso, que para los niños, y en ese tiempo de espera yo me llené la cabeza de trocitos del Preludio y sonetos de Shakespeare y largos pasajes de Yeats. Ahora ya no recuerdo las palabras exactas de ninguno, ha pasado demasiado tiempo, pero lo único que necesito es el medio que los poemas crean. Apenas uno o dos versos, como un anzuelo—hizo un ademán—, uno o dos, bastan para engancharlo todo, lo que el poema dice, lo que significa. Del anzuelo se prende todo. «En la estación de verano, cuando el sol era tibio, yo llevaba un manto como si fuese un pastor». ¿Lo reconoces? Supongo que ya nadie memoriza nada. Para nosotros era parte de una disciplina, como el buen violinista debe saberse de memoria las partitas de Bach o las sonatas de Beethoven. En Peterhouse yo tenía de tutor a Chadwick, un hombre de Aberdeen. Un gran erudito, lo había formado el propio Skeat. ¿Nunca te hablé de Chadwick? Un gruñón sin remedio, pero fue el primero que me enseñó a valorar la memoria, a pensarla como música mental, una partitura para yambos y troqueos.

Las reminiscencias alejaban al profesor Saito del día a día, de las mantas y la bolsa de orina. Otra vez era fines de los años treinta y él volvía a estar en Cambridge respirando el aire húmedo de los pantanos, gozando de la serenidad de su erudición joven. A veces daba la impresión de hablar sobre todo para sí mismo, pero de pronto hacía una pregunta directa y yo, interrumpido en mi pequeño séquito de pensamientos, vacilaba buscando una respuesta. Reanudábamos la vieja relación de alumno y maestro, y él continuaba sin detenerse, sin importarle si yo acertaba con la respuesta o no, si tomaba a Chaucer por Langland o Langland por Chaucer. Enseguida había pasado una hora, y él preguntaba si por ese día podíamos dejarlo allí. Yo prometía volver pronto.

Cuando salí a Central Park South el viento se había vuelto más frío, el aire más diáfano y el clamor de la multitud era fuerte y sostenido. Un gran caudal de corredores en la recta final se dirigía hacia la meta. Como la calle 59 estaba acordonada, fui hasta la 57 y subí hasta encontrar Broadway. La estación de Columbus Circle estaba congestionada, así que caminé hasta el Lincoln Center para coger el metro hacia el norte en la parada siguiente. En la calle 62 alcancé

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Reseñas

Lo que piensa la gente sobre Ciudad abierta

3.4
16 valoraciones / 39 Reseñas
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  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    Walking along the streets of Manhattan and Brussels a young doctor in training to become a psychiatrist 'talks' in flow about past, present without reflecting on the future. Although half German half Nigerian (Yoruba) he greets all blacks including Arabs with 'brother' but apart from his broken relationship all but the relations with his old Japanese college professor in early English literature and his friends from Lagos that are also living in Manhattan all his contacts are short in time and limited in purpose.Getting mugged by his 'brothers' near Columbia University and being accused of rape when he was sixteen by what he considers a friend, the story ends rather abruptly with him opening a private practise on the Bowery; taking the wrong (emergency) exit after listening to Mahler at Carnegie; an unplanned boattrip to the statue of Liberty that as a beacon at night is also a deathtrap for thousands of birds (symbolic for the hardship of immigration?). In these stories within the story, for instance about the triumph of the bed-bug in NY's sleeping rooms, Cole is at his best. Also the story gives an insight that 'the other' is hardly ever the one we consider him to be at first glance. This also is the case with the author / young psychiatrist, multi-racial walker, birdwatcher, lover of classical music and rapist (?) .Like some reviews already stated there is a relationship with the technique of reflecting simultaneously on the theatre and encounters of the city and the innerself which bears resemblance to W.G. Sebald way of writing.
  • (4/5)
    “Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book – and does.”- Groucho MarxIn Open City, Teju Cole has created a perplexing work of semi-autobiographical fiction which eschews plot, though not incident. It is both beautifully written and yet apparently “pointless”. I use “pointless” carefully, as I happen to believe that the best art is purposeless in the sense of not being grossly utilitarian. Yet… and yet. Cole seems to skirt dangerously close to the sort of navel-gazing of which post-modernist writers are so often accused. There is, however, a story beneath his purported stream-of-consciousness technique. I say “purported” because many reviewers have focused on this aspect of Cole’s technique, but I do not think that it is really stream-of-consciousness as one would find in, say, James Joyce or Virginia Woolf.While the whole book may be one long soliloquy by Cole’s protagonist, Julius, it hardly ever becomes a “difficult” book to read. We get Julius’s thoughts, but they are never really confused or contradictory. Everything is explained sequentially, and the “plot” is very easy to follow: Julius, an immigrant from Nigeria, is a newly-qualified psychiatrist in New York City, who walks the streets of the city on apparently random rambles. There is an interlude in this basic structure when Julius goes to Brussels to look for his grandmother (his parents were a mixed-race couple), but this is ultimately unsuccessful. Julius returns to New York… and not much else happens. Well, there is a bit of a shock near the end of the novel, which I will not reveal, but it does make one reconsider Julius’s whole narration: has he been honest in relating events? is he merely a brilliant psychopath, cold and calculating? or are all writers something like this, in their detached and clinical observations?The book definitely left me with more questions than answers. It is quite inscrutable at times, with Julius commenting on all kinds of interesting things, but never really revealing himself. I enjoyed his meditations on race, 9/11, immigration, and the hidden history of New York. The problem was that these recountings were often in the form of information dumps that seemed somehow gratuitous. Were they always really necessary? Probably not, but that might be to miss the point of the book. I always attempt to be charitable in interpreting a book, so perhaps Cole has some deeper intention that was not quite clear to me. I assume it has something to do with noticing details, and how real life often does not make sense in the way that a strongly-plotted book might. Maybe this is why the book elicits such divergent responses: some readers accept the meandering tone as reflective of modern… ennui? confusion? Well, something to that effect. For others, the book seems pointless in a more than art-for-art’s-sake way. I think I am somewhere on the borderline here. Perhaps I have read too many plot-based novels, or I have a congenital love of story, but I found that the book kept on swerving towards, and then away from, a satisfactory reading experience.Cole is certainly a promising writer, and this book is also far from an aborted effort to capture something about early 21st-century life. What that something is remains debatable. I will not say I have great expectations of Cole, as that might sound condescending, but I certainly hope that he keeps on writing. His novel, all reservations aside, has a great freshness and immediacy, a poignancy of place that few writers capture as effortlessly as Cole has.
  • (3/5)
    Ever have one of those reading experiences where you fall in love with the first chapter but become gradually disappointed as the novel progresses?I thought I'd found another Ward Just. (Again, if you aren't familiar with Just, go read something of his RIGHT NOW. I mean it. Go. This review isn't going to be life-changing or anything. It can wait.)For both authors, the urban setting is as essential to the novel as the characters in it: Exiles in the Garden could only be set in D.C., and Open City could only be written about New York. And both authors create richly-layered characters, without pointing out each quality like a paint-by-number. I appreciate that. And neither is afraid to write a book where not much happens. Where Cole disappoints is that he takes the not-much-happens approach, while alluding to Significant Stuff that Happened. I had to re-read a chapter because I thought I'd missed something major. Nope. This happened more than once. I won't go into details, because I am lazy and spoiler-averse, but you'll know them when you read them.Also, Cole has the odd habit of inserting historical anecdotes into the narrative, seemingly at random. For example, there were several pages about 17th century whale beachings in the Netherlands. This comes after our main character, Julius, walks past Trinity Church and starts thinking about a former parishoner, Herman Melville, and New York being formerly New Amsterdam. We also have very long passages where Julius listens to music and looks at paintings, especially Flemish ones (Cole himself happens to be a professional historian of early Netherlandish art, according to the bio on the dust jacket).Don't get me wrong, there was also plenty of beautiful language, and a lot to think about in terms of relationships, solitude, and the unreliability of memory. I'll leave you with this excerpt, as Julius finds himself on a rooftop, clutching a railing and looking at the night sky (the ellipses are mine): "Stars! I hadn't thought I would be able to see them, not with the light pollution permanently wreathing the city.... The miasma of Manhattan's electric lights did not go very far up into the sky, and in the moonless night, the sky was like a roof shot through with light, and heaven itself shimmered. Wonderful stars, a distant cloud of fireflies: but I felt in my body what my eyes could not grasp, which was that their true nature was the persisting visual echo of something that was already in the past. In the unfathomable ages it took for light to cross such distances, the light source itself had in some cases been long extinguished, its dark remains stretched away from us at ever greater speeds.... My hands held metal, my eyes starlight, and it was as though I had come so close to something that it had fallen out of focus, or fallen so far away from it that it had faded away."
  • (4/5)
    Totally prepared to give this book a certain review, then a part toward the end totally threw me. Or maybe a certain chapter remained so unresolved, not unlike the rest of the book, but this part had a different aftertaste, made me re-look.

    A totally solitary, meandering, searching book. Not sure what else I've read that is like this, but certain parts of life are certainly like this book.
  • (3/5)
    This is a quick read w/ generally nice prose. I really hated the ending though- it seemed totally forced and pointless.
  • (4/5)
    Julius, the narrator and protagonist of Teju Cole’s debut novel, is a psychiatrist doing his residency at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital. He lives a solitary life that consists of long work rotations, and long walks through nearby parks and onward to locales in mid-town and lower Manhattan. He travels infrequently and when he does he puts together all of his vacation time in order to spend a number of weeks in Brussels in rainy mid-winter. Julius is, perhaps surprisingly, well-read — he has a long-standing friendship with his aged former English professor from his university days — and he is a deep and subtle appreciator of classical music and art. In a country of immigrants, it is not surprising to learn that Julius is also an immigrant. He spent his formative years in Nigeria, the privileged only child of a mixed race couple. His widowed mother, from whom he is estranged, was originally from Germany. And it is those roots that he is chasing during his Belgian holiday, since he believes that his mother’s mother (the two are also estranged) has moved to Brussels. Time passes. Julius meets some new people and encounters a few people from his past. He reflects upon literature and art and music and, more rarely, the fundaments of psychiatry. And then the novel ends, without comment or cause or resolution (if there were in fact anything there to be resolved). The effect is rather like reading a single volume of a multi-volume diary. Which rather heightens the challenge that Cole lays down for his anti-narrativist narrative.The writing here is lean and unemotional. Cole’s narrator describes his day, his walks, some of the sites in New York, his engagement with certain novels and certain composers, and yet the reader never feels as though they are penetrating beyond the burnished exterior of this character. It is as though he, either deliberately or unintentionally, is holding us at bay. It is a style often associated with W.G. Sebald, but it might also be seen latterly in Joseph O’Neill. Cole’s mastery of this technique is remarkable, for a first novel. It has the advantage of facilitating abstruse discussion of art and politics and race and history. All of which makes this novel both a challenging and an intriguing encounter. But such a distancing technique can also limit understanding even as it suppresses emotional engagement.What do we really learn of Julius? Is he a trustworthy narrator? Do we gain any insight into his Nigerian background? What about the surely compelling story of his mother? What about that grandmother whom he only vaguely attempts to trace in Brussels? In some ways this is a frustrating novel, even if that frustration is both compelled and compelling. So I find myself uncertain, finally, about what to say about Open City. Yet, I have no hesitation in recommending it, if only because you will want to be sure to read everything that this young novelist eventually writes.
  • (3/5)
    That Cole is a photographer as well as a writer is not coincidental. For the protagonist of Open City, the Nigerian-German immigrant psychiatry resident in NYC post 9/11 is for all practical purposes a disengaged roving eye. Quite ironic that he is reading Barthe's Camera Lucida early on as Barthe's passionate relationship to a photograph of his deceased mother might be the polar opposite of Julius's relationship to the mental "photos" he takes as he strolls the streets of NY and Brussels. Out of curiosity, I visited the author's webpage & took a look at quite a few of his "real life" black and white "street" photographs. Gorgeously composed & wonderfully observant. Much like his novel, with one crucial exception. The author's photographs are infused with an empathy that I found largely lacking in his novel. In fact, Julius's most outstanding characteristic is his disengagement from all that he observes. He is perhaps only "with passion" when listening to European classical music (he has no taste for American Jazz)& Northern European painting. He remains always at arm's length, even from his own mugging by 3 young men late in the book. The mood of the novel isn't so much one of generative solitude as one of isolation. The mind may be thrilled but the heart never quickens. I am surprised that not even one of the reviews that I read on Goodreads alludes to a scene late in the novel that takes place at a party given by the wealthy white boyfriend of Moji, the older sister of one of Julius's school friends in Nigeria. Julius runs into Moji by chance while walking in the City. She recognizes him, but he doesn't recognize her. Throughout the novel he pursues an off again on again sort of friendship with her, although he only feels motivated to "flirt" with her when being entertained by her boyfriend. The accusation that Moji makes to him about his having "forced" her to have sex with him at a party back when they were teenagers drops like a bomb into the still waters of the novel, but there is no ripple effect. It doesn't change Julius, nor turn the novel in any direction other than that in which it is already headed. Julius prefaces their one-sided confrontation by remarking that psychiatric patients are unreliable narrators. But who exactly is the unreliable narrator here, Moji or Julius? Impossible to discern, since Julius neither admits culpability nor speaks in his own defense, other than to note that when he looks in the mirror, all told, his accounting of himself to himself falls more to the good side than to the bad. There is a central mystery in this novel, one that haunts Julius & which he never illuminates, which is his estranged relationship (non-relationship in fact) with his German-born mother. He never tells us why he has broken with her. Is it merely because she is the source of his hybridity, the one who keeps him from having specificity in his own eyes (in America he is simply a black man; although in NYC that comes with some nuance)? We don't know, because Julius doesn't tell us & he remains throughout our only source of information. Moji at one point asks him about his mother, saying she always liked her. So, the told story of Moji & Julius becomes linked to the untold story of Julius & his mother. (Perhaps there is more resonance with Barthes than I first thought, since for Barthes, it was always all about his mother).
  • (4/5)
    A slow floating reminiscence, flowing from topic to topic, from conversation to history to meditation.
  • (4/5)
    This critically acclaimed debut novel has no plot to propel it forward, just the ruminations of the solitary and possibly unreliable narrator – a young Nigerian-born psychiatrist – on identity, art, literature, music, death and more as he wanders the streets of Manhattan and has occasional interactions with friends and strangers, most of them immigrants like himself. Beautiful prose, with crystalline descriptions of the city and crisp sketches of people. Surprisingly compelling.
  • (3/5)
    Hm. It wanders and rambles, and sometimes I like the wanderings and rambles and sometimes I didn't enjoy them. There's a lot of subterranean stuff going on--some I caught on to, some I didn't. Probably a great book to write a paper on! Plot---mmm...I would say there is one, but I wouldn't say that I was satisfied by it. The author is writing another book about Nigeria--I do know that I will be looking out for it.
  • (5/5)
    Usually if the term "stream of consciousness" is in a review, I run the opposite direction. Just because so many reviewers told of the huge part New York City played in this novel, I decided to give it a chance. I was not disappointed. With almost no plot, the novel is played out in the mind of Julius as he roams New York and later Brussels. There are two reasons I found this novel so fascinating.First, the author does an excellent job of laying the events on top of the history of the place. He refers to the World Trade Center ruins as a "palimpsest." I had to look up the word, (refers to parchment used again after earlier writings have been erased) but what an excellent way to describe our current world built upon all the ruins of the past. "There had been communities here before Columbus ever set sail, before Verranzano anchored his ships in the narrows, or the black Portuguese slave trader Esteban Gomez sailed up the Hudson....and I, one of the still legible crowd, entered the subway. I wanted to find the line that connected me to my own part in these stories." I loved that connection the author draws between not only Julius but other characters with the historical or global. Along this same line, the reference to the demise of Tower Records. "I was touched not only at the passage of these fixtures in my mental landscape but also at the swiftness and dispassion with which the market swallowed even the most resilient enterprises."Secondly, this is really a book about connections. Some reviewers have referred to Julius as detached and making no connections; I see it just the opposite, he makes the connections, but without all the mental hand-wringing and angst found in so many modern novels. The author aptly demonstrates that extremely superficial connections are often highly overrated and that other deep connections have almost no basis. Because Julius is be-racial, he is often immediately referred to as "brother". The cab driver assumes he is a "brother", Saidu immediately asks if he is African, Farouq calls him "brother. The incident with the muggers is another example of a connection that really isn't even there. "There had earlier been, it occurred to men, on the most tenuous of connections between us, looks on a street corner by strangers, a gesture of mutual respect based on our being young, black, male; based, in other words, on our being 'brothers...a way of saying, I know something of what life is like for you out here." Calling someone a brother implies an understanding, a connection, but it takes more than outward appearance to make one a true brother.On the other hand some connections are so strong yet based on so little. Julius' rememberence and tenderness of his Oma is based on treasuring her hand quietly kneading his shoulder when he was young. His interactions with Professor Saito were "cherished highlights." Even the story told by a minor character demonstrates how one-sided connections can be; what is important to one, is hardly noticeable by the other. The bootblack says of his past employer, "The loss of Mr. Berard was like the loss of my own brother. He wouldn't put it that way, of course."Just like a palimpsest, there are many layers to this novel. It is one that is worth re-reading. In addition to what I have pointed out, there is food for thought about racism, religion, and cultural clashes. All this, but without all the "oh, poor me". Some may dislike the fact that Julius is so unemotional, but I believe he is just someone who realizes he is not the center of the universe. Interesting, intelligent, and thought-provoking.
  • (4/5)
    Many positive reviews and notices prompted me to read this short first novel by the Nigerian born author, Teju Cole. He writes about a young doctor, Julius, who comes to the US to begin his first year of a fellowship as a psychiatric doctor. During this time he takes a lot of walks, gets to know the city and interacts with a few former teachers and new found friends. Not a lot happens but the narrative engages the reader as we hear the thoughts of this philosophical, literary immigrant. The book moves with Julius from the various sections of the city to a four week vacation in Brussels as Julius goes in search of his grandmother. Subsequently he becomes infatuated with the sister of an old friend and amazingly does not seem to remember an incident that has left her scarred. I have enjoyed works that depict the immigrant experience and value the insight that this one had to offer. This is a thoughtful piece and a nice character sketch.
  • (4/5)
    I have very mixed feelings about this novel. The writing, by which I mean the use of language and the intelligence behind it, was truly wonderful. There were many passages I reread to further admire the metaphor or ponder the concept conveyed. The narrative, however, was sorely lacking, with nary a plot line apparent. It was as if the author created a very astute and articulate protagonist (that was unfortunately not particularly likable or engaging) and placed him in almost random settings to allow discourse on widely varied subject matter. I think short stories would have been a much better format.There were a large number of possible story lines that were created only to disappear entirely, which was quite frustrating. The ending was similarly random and abrupt. Most glaringly was a potentially shattering incident that is revealed from the protagonist's past that gets dropped into the narrative with absolutely zero response/reaction provided. Here is a character that waxes on at length about nearly everything he wanders by, and yet this intense confrontation is left completely unacknowledged. The character merely walks away and begins musing on yet another subject.
  • (4/5)
    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 Presbyterian Hospital, one of the city's medical gems; he attends a concerts of music I'd pay money to avoid (Mahler! PURCELL! *shudder*); and he walks.His ramblings take him to every part of Manhattan, later also Brussels where he spends a month looking quite haphazardly for his probably dead German grandmother whom he does not find; his trained ear allows him to listen to text and subtext in his many conversations with many and various people of most every ethnicity these famously open cities have to offer. He is, in Christopher Isherwood's very apt phrase, a camera ("I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording not thinking...."); we are never treated to a view of the man holding the camera, but rather we are in the camera as he swings it about. In the end, there are no actions to report of Julius, but he makes up for his passivity with his introspection, and his clearly flawed impassivity to the emotional realities of others. My Review: I had no idea this book was coming to me. In a truly random act, Random House's Random House imprint delivered me a signed copy of the book, with the editor's card (thank you, kind sir! Nice to get a gift from someone I don't know!) and a photocopied rave review of the book from The New Yorker. I read the first 10pp anyway, since The New Yorker and I almost never agree on books.I was hooked. I was claustrophobic and annoyed and hooked. I had no idea books like this, the truly interior novels of the nouvelle roman ilk, were still able to be published in the USA. I mentioned above that we never, ever leave the camera that is Julius's head; all experiences are filtered through his eyes, heard with his ears. It's actually physically confining, this technique; like being tied up and read to. NOT a favorite activity of mine, for the record; either of them. It's a species of intimacy that I find quite discomfiting. But it works here because the narrator is so completely unable to be anywhere but here, think about any time but now; his excursions into memory are forced, and intentionally so (I think; Mr. Cole and I aren't acquainted, so I impute motives to him on no basis but my eyes). Anooyingly, Julius is not very good at contextualizing his world. This is the risk an author runs in writing from inside the tightest and narrowest of boxes, the human skull. Of course, no sane person runs around through the day contextualizing his or her own story, so that's hardly a mark against the author's fidelity to his vision. But it makes Julius a little less of a forceful presence and more of a miasmic infestation in his own book. I was left feeling that the bedbugs (horrible bloodsucking little fiends) resembled the narrator a little too closely. Both are simply *there* and the fact of them is meant to be enough to set action rolling. I mildly disagree, but that's neither here nor there in evaluating the book's merits.And merits it has. The prose is begulingly poetic. The lushness of description would feel out-of-timely off-putting were it not for the sense of inevitability and rightness the descriptions provide. The structure of the book (the hardest personal and professional year of a residency, that last one) isn't in any way innovative, but it's used to excellent effect. Julius, based on reading this book, seems like the sort of man who would be interesting to run into on his walks around Manhattan. I suspect the same would be true of Mr. Cole. Whatever force impelled the author to write this book, however the shock to his system that's the sine qua non of bringing forth such a sustained and elaborate feat of craftsmanship was delivered, it's my hope that another will be delivered soon. In the meantime, I'd suggest investing in this book will prove a winner for most sophisticated readers.
  • (4/5)
    Not much of a plot. Not any plot really. A Nigerian immigrant in NYC, walks around a lot, has interactions with mostly other immigrants. He goes to Belgium and interacts with immigrants there too. But, an enjoyable read overall. The character's reactions to what he see and experiences are intresting, there is alot of opinions given on important issues, and the book is very well written.There are also some flashbacks to his childhood in Nigeria. I found this aspect of the book the most enjoyable, because I like to be transported to countries and cultures that are much different from my own. One problem I had with the book came near the end. He gets confronted by someone from his past, who accuses him of certain bad acts, but he never reflects on what is said to him. I was expecting and looking forward to seeing how he reacted to the accusation and finding out his perspective on the events in question.
  • (4/5)
    I did enjoy this book. Despite being plotless, structure-less, effectively formless, I never found myself bored with the main character's ruminations, and I kept turning pages just to hear his voice and his thoughts, even when nothing of great import was being discussed. This is a quiet, thoughtful, unflashy book, and I liked that.Perhaps most of all, I was engaged by the main character's experience of being black in contemporary America, and yet being at a distance from mainstream black America because he doesn't have a personal history of slavery. I'm hugely interested in authors who are trying to find new ways to write about race in America, and Cole handles this aspect deftly. The other thing that drew me to this book was the author's attempt to engage philosophy in a fictional context, since that's something I'm also trying to do. I found this aspect a bit wanting, though -- the philosophical elements mostly struck me as flimsy and superficial, the characters tending to abandon ideas just as they are getting interesting.I also found myself wondering throughout the book how the author was going to end it -- how do you conclude a story without a structure? The answer seems to be: not well. The last two chapters are clumsy with unearned revelation and pseudo-profundity. A disappointment after the light, pleasantly meandering mood of the rest of the book.
  • (2/5)
    The writing in this book is beautiful, and I can see glimpses of the author's other talents in how he views the world. I really struggled to finish this book, though. I kept waiting for a plot that wasn't really there, or some character to latch on to.
  • (4/5)
    This is a book of musings, thoughts, many philosophical made by an African-European man living in NYC. It had a rhythm and enough interesting thoughts and analogies to keep me reading but then again, it never went anywhere.
  • (4/5)
    A timely book written some time ago. Our narrator Julius is superficially alluring - thoughtful, intelligent - but as the book progresses a darker truth emerges of pretension, selfishness, and something even worse. A fine study of toxic masculinity masquerading as ‘nice guy’ness.
  • (4/5)
    Some books have opening lines that are immediately moving for the reader. This is one of those books. This uncommon novel begins with the narrator commenting on on his daily walks: "And so when I began to go on evening walks last fall. . . "While this line may seem unassuming, and the whole book contains vignettes that, taken individually, may seem unassuming, the entirety of this memoir-like narrative is powerful indeed. What is it that makes the individual parts come together in such a fashion that they had such an impact on this reader?There are two parts containing short chapters. In Part One the story follows the main character, Julius, who is a Nigerian doctor doing his psychiatric residency in New York City. Julius takes up walking as a way to diminish the pressures of his job working with his patients. Julius even uses the walks to clear his mind of personal matters, such as a recent breakup with his girlfriend, Nadege. Throughout the novel, the narration of the story does not include any dialogue among the characters, but is told in exposition - in short chapters. He is an observer of humanity and as he walks he shares his experiences in a somewhat random manner. What we learn from this is not just the experiences but his ruminations on history, literature, art, and eventually his own family. He starts to recognize what a true melting pot New York is as far as cultures and ethnicities are concerned. In the face of living in such a diverse city, however, Julius also notices that stark separation that still draws an imaginary line segregating one ethnic group from another.As Julius walks, he also thinks back to his childhood in Nigeria. His father died when Julius was 14. He is now estranged from his mother. while his father was of Nigerian descent, Julius's mother is white and of German descent, making Julius a mixed race. Due to his mixed race, and light colored skin, Julius feels out of place, even in the worlds where he belongs. As he wanders around the city, black people seem to connect with him, recognizing his African roots.One of his run-ins with someone he grew up with in Nigeria even reveals that Julius raped her. Subsequently, Julius blocked out the memory of this event and never reveals if he recalls it when his Moji tells him what he did to her.Near the end of Part One of the novel Julius visits Brussels. He is only just visiting Brussels, but it has a similar impact on him as Manhattan. He is impressed by the feeling of history from the ancient buildings, since Brussels was an "Open City" in WWII and was thus exempt from bombing. But beyond the history and his own internal meditations he feels just as impermanent in Brussels as he had in New York. It was like he being awestruck by it for the first time despite being world-weary restless. He is a perpetual tourist, stopping in his steps to gawk, never in a hurry but always moving somewhere—if not forward or backward, still somewhere.By the end of the novel, Julius finishes his residency and moves into private practice. It seems as if he has come to terms with some of the events in his life. On the other hand, he never fully addresses some of the other issues to reveal to the reader as to whether the issues are ongoing or resolved. The lack of resolution did not diminish the cumulative power of the stories shared by the narrator.Open City is the debut novel by author Teju Cole. the story of narrator Julius’ wandering through New York, and, briefly, Brussels. It gains power and presence through his contemplation of immigration and nationality in the U.S., his fleetingly depicted but often strong friendships, the way we manufacture brotherhood as a way to both unite and distance ourselves from humanity.
  • (4/5)
    Another first reads book (Thank you Goodreads and Random House!)
    Much has been said here, and I need not repeat. Language that Cole utilizes is poetic, though not as much as, say, Winterson's. The narrator is an intellectual and the language perfectly delivers the desired effect. What's interesting is that no matter what it sounds exactly like a Nigerian intellectual immigrant would sound at times; all the right words and high concepts are there, but there is a certain way of saying things that points to the continent. This makes the narrative voice very believable and effective.

    There is a lot of contemplation, silent walks littered with historical facts about New York City, Nigeria, Lagos, slavery, colonization, language, film, literature, music, music, music... There are many things unexplained or half-baked, and there are no apologies for any of it.

    I enjoyed reading the book. The confrontation towards the end and the lack of engagement from the point of view of the narrator was interesting, but I am not sure if I liked it or if I would prefer some sort of reaction, analysis, catharsis.
  • (4/5)
    Sort of shapeless, but lots of great, beautifully written passages. No plot at all, really, and no ending to speak of -- the book just stops. (I was reading it on the Kindle and really didn't realize how close I was to the ending; I expected another chapter!)
  • (4/5)
    This is a very unusual and impressive novel. Its form is like a diary. But while the action moves forward in time, the novel's structure lacks a traditional linear plot. It reads more as a series of revelations about the solitary, distanced narrator.Julius is a medical resident in psychiatry who emigrated alone from Nigeria to the United States for college. He travels, often on foot, around Manhattan, and briefly on vacation in Brussels, and tells us what he sees. He is a careful, caring observer and a good reporter, so he paints interesting portraits of the people he meet and the events and places he experiences. But his travels also seem vaguely compulsive and sometimes almost hallucinatory. And his encounters with people usually contain an aloofness or distance, even with those to whom he is close. Everything seems slightly disconnected, like a dream.With each episode or chapter, biographical details slip out and accrete. But there is never a sense of full knowledge. Then, in an episode near the end, we hear someone else's perspective of Julius, which dramatically underlines how little we know, and perhaps how little he knows. So instead of knowledge and a sense of resolution, we experience the gaps and mysteries and spaces between.I admire the complexity of his task, and how easily he seems to accomplish it. It's a really impressive novel, and an amazingly impressive first novel. It somehow reminds me of W.G. Sebald, but the book in truth is not Sebaldian but uniquely Cole's.
  • (4/5)
    Teju Cole's absorbing novel Open City, published in 2011, draws the reader inexorably into the life of the narrator, Julius, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency in New York City.The time is several years after 9/11. Recently separated from a lover of long standing and having lost contact with his family, Julius finds solace walking the streets of the city, the walks acting as a panacea for the strict regimentation of his life and the state of personal isolation in which he finds himself. As he walks, he draws associations and tells stories, of himself, of the people he meets, and of the city and its landmarks. Deeply aware of how his ethnicity marks him, he also refuses to let it define him. Julius is a lover of history and of all forms of art. His meditations offer critiques and commentary on music, architecture, nationhood, literature. His appreciation of his American surroundings is profound, and yet his past haunts him in a manner that causes a painful yearning. In quietly powerful, richly textured prose--dense with metaphor and closely observed detail--Cole's novel is seductive and wise and truly original.
  • (1/5)
    I tried. Even the "surprise" at the end couldn't make me care.
  • (4/5)
    This book is hard to review. It's hard to summarize. And I'm not even sure if I would recommend that you read it, although I am glad that I read it, and I appreciate the skill with which Cole writes. This book made several "best of 2011" lists, and it did quite well in the Powell/Morning News Tournament of Books, but even those who like it seem to have a hard time describing exactly why they liked it. On the surface, it is a book about Julius, a Nigerian immigrant who is doing his psychiatry residency in New York City. Julius walks the streets of New York and reflects. Occasionally, he interacts with someone else, but not often. Mostly this is a book about Julius's inner life, and what a complex inner life it is. Julius reflects on identity, on what it means to be different, on what it means to belong and to feel isolated. In the end, he arrives at few answers. But, despite the extreme differences between my life and Julius's, I felt a sense of affinity with him. Still I wonder how much I will retain from this book. I suspect that I may remember what the reading experience felt like more than I'll remember any specific details. This book is multi-layered. I'm sure that there is much that I missed. For that reason, I think it would be a good book to read with a group. I think that it is one of those rare books that I'll read again someday.
  • (3/5)
    It was interesting but I couldn't get over the feeling that I was being lectured to. There's no plot per se and sometimes the story reads like a philosophy textbook. This is definitely not a book for someone who wants a linear plot.
  • (4/5)
    This book is a meditation on urban living and the happenstance of running into people – people who often provide food for thought. The geography of Manhattan and Brussels (and their inhabitants) seem to be a metaphor for the author’s interior philosophical rambling. A transplant from Africa, the narrator also gives us insight into many things that we take for granted. Overall the book resembles the pacing of the quiet and then blaring symphonies which the young psychiatrist is fond of listening to in his spare time.
  • (4/5)
    I listened to the audible version of this book, narrated by Kevin Mambo. Mambo's voice was perfect match for Cole's beautiful, soothing prose. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I lost the purpose or the direction of the story and I am not sure if I missed something or if it in fact lacks direction. I am rating it 4 stars until I get the chance to actually read the story myself.