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A Book We Love: Open City

Chris, Belmar Library

A novel based on characterization is only as successful as the figures that populate it. Teju Cole takes this corollary a step further by presenting us with a book whose focus is squarely on a single character, rather than divided among an ensemble cast. Set in New York, Open City centers on the everyday life of its protagonist, Julius, a young psychiatrist who interns at an area hospital. While other characters are introduced, Cole’s narrator seems to have no deep connections to any of them. In this sense, Cole gives us a faithful depiction of what it is to live in a modern megatropolis; in other words, the same psychological distance necessary to live in a bustling, overstimulated and demanding environment also colors our human relationships. As a result, many of Cole’s other characters have the quality of acquaintances: Julius knows them incidentally, but shares no real intimacy with them. Fortunately, Cole is both erudite and a fine prose stylist, which gives his novel a deeply thoughtful tone, but as any philosopher worth her salt will tell you, brilliance only reaches its full potential when it is shared. A bildungsroman in the purest sense, Open City also gives us a taste of our times, when digital media and social compartmentalization ensure that we spend most of our time talking not to each other, but to ourselves.