Sometimes I’m reluctant to read books that are highly praised. Almost as if praise is in itself – dubious; a warning sign.
I did not –
Here is what i found:
I believed Open City to be a book about New York, and it is; but it is also so much more:
Open City is a book of – I’m tempted to say: universal themes (even if I am aware of the problem of defining something as universal – as also is a theme in the novel), but even so I would like to use it, because this book deals with existential issues in a way that transcend individual differences. It is a book on history and on our everyday world, a book about the US, but also about Nigeria, Germany, Belgium & Japan. About trying to belong, and not wanting to belong. A book about class, race & gender.
And it is also to a high degree a book about music – rarely have I read a more beautiful musical ekphrasis than Cole’s rendering of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde – rarely a novel where art more powerfully transgress individual differences (showing us … the universal quality of art???)
And I have to to mention something which might seem personal and unimportant, but which I believe to be of great importance: I am everything the narrator is not – I’m middle-aged, I’m white, I’m a women, I’m married, I’m a mother and I am living in a different corner of the world. Still I can recognize myself in Julius – and I guess you can too. This is, I believe, a sign of Teju Cole’s rare literary talent.
And then of course there are the details: language, tone & rhythm, all the really difficult things that transform good ideas into great fiction.