Looking for one last, fantastic read before summer ends? This year I’ve been pitching Teju Cole’s 2011 award-winning novel Open City to anyone who’ll listen. It’s brief but still feels bursting with detailed observation, beautifully written, and as important a novel I’ve read about global politics and local identity in a long, long time. Set in New York in the middle of the last decade, the book ambles through city streets — and a quick trip to Brussels — with its narrator, Julius, a Nigerian-born medical student studying at Columbia. The novel’s sensibilities are cosmopolitan — in Appiah’s sense of the term — and so Julius’s flânerie tends to take him to the places where cultures collide, combine, and create something new. But the book is also deeply interested in the idea of history: how the spaces around us were produced, how they produce us, and how we interact, often unknowingly, with their past inhabitants.
In short, it’s a book Cyrus and I would be likely to use in the final weeks of our Writing New York course. The class is still on hiatus while we teach in Abu Dhabi, but we’re committed to blogging again this fall, so hold us to it. Starting next week, we’ll be running several posts on the book. If you’ve read it — or if you grab it in time for a plane or the beach this week — we’d love to hear your thoughts.
New Yorker review here; great 3AM Magazine interview here; and a PBS Art Beat conversation here. (We nabbed their graphic, above.) Also highly recommended: Teju Cole on Twitter. Here’s a blurb he filmed for Leonard Lopate’s club last year: