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Open City (Anglais) Broché – 2 février 2012

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Death is a perfection of the eye


And so when I began to go on evening walks last fall, I found Morningside Heights an easy place from which to set out into the city. The path that drops down from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and crosses Morningside Park is only fifteen minutes from Central Park. In the other direction, going west, it is some ten minutes to Sakura Park, and walking northward from there brings you toward Harlem, along the Hudson, though traffic makes the river on the other side of the trees inaudible. These walks, a counterpoint to my busy days at the hospital, steadily lengthened, taking me farther and farther afield each time, so that I often found myself at quite a distance from home late at night, and was compelled to return home by subway. In this way, at the beginning of the final year of my psychiatry fellowship, New York City worked itself into my life at walking pace.

Not long before this aimless wandering began, I had fallen into the habit of watching bird migrations from my apartment, and I wonder now if the two are connected. On the days when I was home early enough from the hospital, I used to look out the window like someone taking auspices, hoping to see the miracle of natural immigration. Each time I caught sight of geese swooping in formation across the sky, I wondered how our life below might look from their perspective, and imagined that, were they ever to indulge in such speculation, the high-rises might seem to them like firs massed in a grove. Often, as I searched the sky, all I saw was rain, or the faint contrail of an airplane bisecting the window, and I doubted in some part of myself whether these birds, with their dark wings and throats, their pale bodies and tireless little hearts, really did exist. So amazed was I by them that I couldn’t trust my memory when they weren’t there.

Pigeons flew by from time to time, as did sparrows, wrens, orioles, tanagers, and swifts, though it was almost impossible to identify the birds from the tiny, solitary, and mostly colorless specks I saw fizzing across the sky. While I waited for the rare squadrons of geese, I would sometimes listen to the radio. I generally avoided American stations, which had too many commercials for my taste—Beethoven followed by ski jackets, Wagner after artisanal cheese—instead tuning to Internet stations from Canada, Germany, or the Netherlands. And though I often couldn’t understand the announcers, my comprehension of their languages being poor, the programming always met my evening mood with great exactness. Much of the music was familiar, as I had by this point been an avid listener to classical radio for more than fourteen years, but some of it was new. There were also rare moments of astonishment, like the first time I heard, on a station broadcasting from Hamburg, a bewitching piece for orchestra and alto solo by Shchedrin (or perhaps it was Ysaÿe) which, to this day, I have been unable to identify.

I liked the murmur of the announcers, the sounds of those voices speaking calmly from thousands of miles away. I turned the computer’s speakers low and looked outside, nestled in the comfort provided by those voices, and it wasn’t at all difficult to draw the comparison between myself, in my sparse apartment, and the radio host in his or her booth, during what must have been the middle of the night somewhere in Europe. Those disembodied voices remain connected in my mind, even now, with the apparition of migrating geese. Not that I actually saw the migrations more than three or four times in all: most days all I saw was the colors of the sky at dusk, its powder blues, dirty blushes, and russets, all of which gradually gave way to deep shadow. When it became dark, I would pick up a book and read by the light of an old desk lamp I had rescued from one of the dumpsters at the university; its bulb was hooded by a glass bell that cast a greenish light over my hands, the book on my lap, the worn upholstery of the sofa. Sometimes, I even spoke the words in the book out loud to myself, and doing so I noticed the odd way my voice mingled with the murmur of the French, German, or Dutch radio announcers, or with the thin texture of the violin strings of the orchestras, all of this intensified by the fact that whatever it was I was reading had likely been translated out of one of the European languages. That fall, I flitted from book to book: Barthes’s Camera Lucida, Peter Altenberg’s Telegrams of the Soul, Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Last Friend, among others.

In that sonic fugue, I recalled St. Augustine, and his astonishment at St. Ambrose, who was reputed to have found a way to read without sounding out the words. It does seem an odd thing—it strikes me now as it did then—that we can comprehend words without voicing them. For Augustine, the weight and inner life of sentences were best experienced out loud, but much has changed in our idea of reading since then. We have for too long been taught that the sight of a man speaking to himself is a sign of eccentricity or madness; we are no longer at all habituated to our own voices, except in conversation or from within the safety of a shouting crowd. But a book suggests conversation: one person is speaking to another, and audible sound is, or should be, natural to that exchange. So I read aloud with myself as my audience, and gave voice to another’s words.

In any case, these unusual evening hours passed easily, and I often fell asleep right there on the sofa, dragging myself to bed only much later, usually at some point in the middle of the night. Then, after what always seemed mere minutes of sleep, I was jarred awake by the beeping of the alarm clock on my cellphone, which was set to a bizarre marimba-like arrangement of “O Tannenbaum.” In these first few moments of consciousness, in the sudden glare of morning light, my mind raced around itself, remembering fragments of dreams or pieces of the book I had been reading before I fell asleep. It was to break the monotony of those evenings that, two or three days each week after work, and on at least one of the weekend days, I went out walking.

At first, I encountered the streets as an incessant loudness, a shock after the day’s focus and relative tranquillity, as though someone had shattered the calm of a silent private chapel with the blare of a TV set. I wove my way through crowds of shoppers and workers, through road constructions and the horns of taxicabs. Walking through busy parts of town meant I laid eyes on more people, hundreds more, thousands even, than I was accustomed to seeing in the course of a day, but the impress of these countless faces did nothing to assuage my feelings of isolation; if anything, it intensified them. I became more tired, too, after the walks began, an exhaustion unlike any I had known since the first months of internship, three years earlier. One night, I simply went on and on, walking all the way down to Houston Street, a distance of some seven miles, and found myself in a state of disorienting fatigue, laboring to remain on my feet. That night I took the subway home, and instead of falling asleep immediately, I lay in bed, too tired to release myself from wakefulness, and I rehearsed in the dark the numerous incidents and sights I had encountered while roaming, sorting each encounter like a child playing with wooden blocks, trying to figure out which belonged where, which responded to which. Each neighborhood of the city appeared to be made of a different substance, each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight: the bright lights and shuttered shops, the housing projects and luxury hotels, the fire escapes and city parks. My futile task of sorting went on until the forms began to morph into each other and assume abstract shapes unrelated to the real city, and only then did my hectic mind finally show some pity and still itself, only then did dreamless sleep arrive.

The walks met a need: they were a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and once I discovered them as therapy, they became the normal thing, and I forgot what life had been like before I started walking. Work was a regimen of perfection and competence, and it neither allowed improvisation nor tolerated mistakes. As interesting as my research project was—I was conducting a clinical study of affective disorders in the elderly—the level of detail it demanded was of an intricacy that exceeded anything else I had done thus far. The streets served as a welcome opposite to all that. Every decision—where to turn left, how long to remain lost in thought in front of an abandoned building, whether to watch the sun set over New Jersey, or to lope in the shadows on the East Side looking across to Queens—was inconsequential, and was for that reason a reminder of freedom. I covered the city blocks as though measuring them with my stride, and the subway stations served as recurring motives in my aimless progress. The sight of large masses of people hurrying down into underground chambers was perpetually strange to me, and I felt that all of the human race were rushing, pushed by a counterinstinctive death drive, into movable catacombs. Aboveground I was with thousands of others in their solitude, but in the subway, standing close to strangers, jostling them and being jostled by them for space and breathing room, all of us reenacting unacknowledged traumas, the solitude intensified.

One Sunday morning in November, after a trek through the relatively quiet streets on the Upper West Side, I arrived at the large, sun-brightened plaza at Columbus Circle. The area had changed recently. It had become a more commercial and tourist destination thanks to the pair of buildings erected for the Time Warner corporation on the site. The buildings, constructed at great speed, had just opened, and were filled with shops selling tailored shirts, designer suits, jewelry, appliances for the gourmet cook, handmade leather accessories, and imported decorative items. On the upper floors were some of the costliest restaurants in the city, advertising truffles, caviar, Kobe beef, and pricey “tasting menus.” Above the restaurants were apartments that included the most expensive residence in the city. Curiosity had brought me into the shops on the ground level once or twice before, but the cost of the items, and what I perceived as the generally snobbish atmosphere, had kept me from returning until that Sunday morning.

It was the day of the New York Marathon. I hadn’t known. I was taken aback to see the round plaza in front of the glass towers filled with people, a massive, expectant throng setting itself into place close to the marathon’s finish line. The crowd lined the street leading away from the plaza toward the east. Nearer the west there was a bandstand, on which two men with guitars were tuning up, calling and responding to the silvery notes on each other’s amplified in- struments. Banners, signs, posters, flags, and streamers of all kinds flapped in the wind, and mounted police on blindered horses regulated the crowd with cordons, whistles, and hand movements. The cops were in dark blue and wore sunshades. The crowd was brightly attired, and looking at all that green, red, yellow, and white synthetic material in the sun hurt the eyes. To escape the din, which seemed to be mounting, I decided to go into the shopping center. In addition to the Armani and Hugo Boss shops, there was a bookshop on the second floor. In there, I thought, I might catch some quiet and drink a cup of coffee before heading back home. But the entrance was full of the crowd overflow from the street, and cordons made it impossible to get into the towers.

I changed my mind, and decided instead to visit an old teacher of mine who lived in the vicinity, in an apartment less than ten minutes’ walk away on Central Park South. Professor Saito was, at eighty-nine, the oldest person I knew. He had taken me under his wing when I was a junior at Maxwell. By that time he was already emeritus, though he continued to come to campus every day. He must have seen something in me that made him think I was someone on whom his rarefied subject (early English literature) would not be wasted. I was a disappointment in this regard, but he was kindhearted and, even after I failed to get a decent grade in his English Literature before Shakespeare seminar, invited me to meet with him several times in his office. He had, in those days, recently installed an intrusively loud coffee machine, so we drank coffee, and talked: about interpretations of Beowulf, and then later on about the classics, the endless labor of scholarship, the various consolations of academia, and of his studies just before the Second World War. This last subject was so total in its distance from my experience that it was perhaps of most interest to me. The war had broken out just as he was finishing his D.Phil, and he was forced to leave England and return to his family in the Pacific Northwest. With them, shortly afterward, he was taken to internment in the Minidoka Camp in Idaho.

In these conversations, as I now recall them, he did almost all the talking. I learned the art of listening from him, and the ability to trace out a story from what was omitted. Rarely did Professor Saito tell me anything about his family, but he did tell me about his life as a scholar, and about how he had responded to important issues of his day. He’d done an annotated translation of Piers Plowman in the 1970s, which had turned out to be his most notable academic success. When he mentioned it, he did so with a curious mixture of pride and disappointment. He alluded to another big project (he didn’t say on what) that had never been completed. He spoke, too, about departmental politics. I remember one afternoon that was taken up with his recollection of a onetime colleague whose name meant nothing to me when he said it and which I don’t remember now. This woman had become famous for her activism during the civil rights era and had, for a moment, been such a campus celebrity that her literature classes overflowed. He described her as an intelligent, sensitive individual but someone with whom he could never agree. He admired and disliked her. It’s a puzzle, I remember him saying, she was a good scholar, and she was on the right side of the struggles of the time, but I simply couldn’t stand her in person. She was abrasive and egotistical, heaven rest her soul. You can’t say a word against her around here, though. She’s still considered a saint.

After we became friends, I made it a point to see Professor Saito two or three times each semester, and those meetings became cherished highlights of my last two years at Maxwell. I came to view him as a grandfatherly figure entirely unlike either of my own grandfathers (only one of whom I’d known). I felt I had more in common with him than with the people who happened to be related to me. After graduation, when I left, first for my research stint at Cold Spring Harbor, and then to medical school in Madison, we lost touch with each other. We exchanged one or two letters, but it was hard to have our conversations in that medium, since news and updates were not the real substance of our interaction. But after I returned to the city for internship, I saw him several times. The first, entirely by accident—though it happened on a day when I had been thinking about him—was just outside a grocery store not far from Central Park South, where he had gone out walking with the aid of an assistant. Later on, I showed up unannounced at his apartment, as he had invited me to do, and found that he still maintained the same open-door policy he had back when he had his office at the college. The coffee machine from that office now sat disused in a corner of the room. Professor Saito told me he had prostate cancer. It wasn’t entirely debilitating, but he had stopped going to campus, and had begun to hold court at home. His social interactions had been curtailed to a degree that must have pained him; the number of guests he welcomed had declined steadily, until most of his visitors were either nurses or home health aides. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

'My favourite novel of the year, dreamlike and meandering, like the best of WG Sebald.' --Alain de Botton, New Statesman

'A character study of exquisite subtlety and sophistication. It is a debut of enormous promise.' --Independent on Sunday

'Open City exhibits the focus, timelessness and unobtrusive wit that its narrator admires in great painting. An exhilarating post-melting-pot novel, it delves into unexcavated histories, erasures and the bones beneath us. It marvels at the stories we contain, capturing new realities where identity is a fluid mix of inheritance, memory and fiction. A hopeful, affirming book, it depicts the world's vastness and reminds us that we all have a place . . . With breathtaking intelligence and originality, Teju Cole organises his novel to push against formal and national boundaries. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Open City successfully reckons with its impact and points the way ahead.' --Max Liu, Independent

'A work of great originality, sophistication and - a precious rarity in first novels these days - brevity' --Independent on Sunday Books of the Year

'A strikingly Sebaldian novel that managed to step out of the shadow of its influences to create a powerfully original and tightly controlled prose. The future, I think.' -- Alex Preston, New Statesman

'Magnificent first novel ... the narrator is a solitary peripatetic, ruminative and wholly unforgettable.' -- Jonathan Derbyshire, New Statesman

'A Sebaldesque wander through New York.' --Hari Kunzru, Guardian

'Immensely wide-ranging and ambitious.' William Dalrymple, Herald

'[Allows] individuals rather than concepts to define the passage of its fiction ... Through Cole's lucid writing style, the reader fully inhabits the complicated, contradictory yet fully convincing world of Julius ... a masterly exploration of the gap between how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. It takes confidence - courage, even - for a writer to attempt to explore this territory. Cole passes the test with aplomb.' -- Akin Ajayi, TLS

'An unusual accomplishment. A precise and poetic meditation on love, race, identity, friendship, memory, dislocation and Manhattan bird life.' --The Economist

'A strikingly Sebaldian novel that managed to step out of the shadow of its influences to create a powerfully original and tightly controlled prose. The future, I think.' -- Alex Preston, New Statesman

'Magnificent first novel ... the narrator is a solitary peripatetic, ruminative and wholly unforgettable.' -- Jonathan Derbyshire, New Statesman

'A Sebaldesque wander through New York.' --Hari Kunzru, Guardian

'Immensely wide-ranging and ambitious.' William Dalrymple, Herald

'[Allows] individuals rather than concepts to define the passage of its fiction ... Through Cole's lucid writing style, the reader fully inhabits the complicated, contradictory yet fully convincing world of Julius ... a masterly exploration of the gap between how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. It takes confidence - courage, even - for a writer to attempt to explore this territory. Cole passes the test with aplomb.' -- Akin Ajayi, TLS

'An unusual accomplishment. A precise and poetic meditation on love, race, identity, friendship, memory, dislocation and Manhattan bird life.' --The Economist

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Format: Broché Achat vérifié
A mon sens, cette œuvre est trop scolaire et manque d’un brin de folie et d’émotivité dans l’histoire et dans le personnage principal. Toutefois, l’histoire est bien écrite et globalement intéressante. Les sujets abordés sont dans l’air du temps et sont traités avec recul et beaucoup d’impartialité. On ressent aussi que l’auteur essaye de contenter un peu tout le monde plutôt que de prendre une position bien clair. Ce livre est incroyablement politiquement correct. Il nous fait également découvrir, ou redécouvrir Manhattan au travers de ses ballades dans la ville qu’il connaît jusqu’au bout de ses doigts. Il répond à la promesse d’évasion même si ses descriptions sont bien trop scolaires et manque d’engagement émotionnel, ce qui m’a parfois donné l’impression de livre un guide touristique.

J’ai le sentiment qu’il manquait quelque chose pour en faire une œuvre majeure. Peut-être parce que même si je partageais globalement les idées du héros, sa vision du monde et que si toutes les possibilités qu’offrent Manhattan que j’ai découvert au travers de ce livre m’ont donné envie de redécouvrir cette ville, je n’ai pas réussi à m’attacher à lui. Je ne saurais pointer du doigt la cause mais j’étais essentiellement indifférente ou ennuyée par ce qu’il disait, peut-être parce que l’essentiel émotion du livre était une forme de tristesse refoulée mais néanmoins latente et omniprésente.
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Open City est un grand roman parce qu'il réunit toutes sortes de qualités littéraires, écriture, style, pensée, émotion. La promenade dans la ville est un bon médium, tissée comme elle l'est avec la vie du narrateur, ses rencontres, ses voyages, intérieurs ou transcontinentaux. Les deux Marocains de Bruxelles, sous le regard du jeune Américano-nigérian, nous font toucher les problèmes actuels du monde avec beaucoup de finesse. Expériences du psychiatre, mésaventures du piéton, éducation sentimentale, culture, poésie, comédie, le mixage est parfait. Je n'ai pas lu la traduction, qui a dû s'avérer délicate, mais il est certain qu'un nouvel écrivain nous est révélé.
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This debut has been showered with praise and prizes. I find it hard to judge it away from NYC, Brussels and Nigeria, its main venues. It is written in the I-form and its narrator makes lengthy walkabouts in Manhattan, pondering about his patients (he is a Nigerian MD, about to become a psychiatrist), commenting on little-known aspects of buildings he visits or passes by, bird migrations, etc., etc.
His history is complicated and he is brilliant when describing dead matter: buildings, paintings by known and unknown masters, works of little-known experimental composers and -philosophers, the life and works of Gustav Mahler. He visits Brussels looking for his beloved German grandma, but quickly gives up his search and starts walking again, criticizing the town's many statues of false heroes. His dislike of his German mother is not explored; he does not want to see her again. He is a grown man holding on to shreds of early memories, with a powerful one about his grandmother squeezing his shoulder while his parents climbed some shrine or mountain in Nigeria, overruling any feeling he has for his white mother.
In Brussels he lends his ear to a pair of Moroccans who feel persecuted for their mindsets before they even expressed them in public. The account of his talks with his dying, former English professor Saito shows a warm side of him. He has one or two other such friends, and meets other "brothers" blacks, whose friendly overtures he does not reciprocate. And a small band of "brothers" assails and robs him.
Rich book in terms of symbols such as light vs. darkness and the many meanings of white vs. black. And about the uses and limits of psychiatry. Rich also in its sudden associations and flashbacks, and his description of the NY bedbug epidemic as a metaphor for worse to come.
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malgré le twist final, plaqué et malhonnête, je trouve ce livre pédant et creux, et le narrateur est très irritant.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) HASH(0x8e15c0fc) étoiles sur 5 163 commentaires
94 internautes sur 100 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8dec8c54) étoiles sur 5 A novel by Vermeer 25 avril 2011
Par N. D. Horowitz - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Full disclosure: I briefly worked with Teju Cole eleven years ago. At the time, I was a little awed by how eloquent he was: he spoke like he had already written five or six books. So I wasn't surprised to learn, recently, that he had published a book, or that it was getting good reviews.

I want to take an angle that I haven't seen taken yet, and talk about what one can learn from Open City. Books are teachings, even when they're fictional. Authors take the knowledge they have acquired and share it with the public, like teachers do. Sometimes it's facts; sometimes it's subtler stuff like perceptions, analyses and open questions.

1. Race. (Whatever that is.) The book made me feel like I was understanding race better. Many of the characters are also involved in thinking about race.

2. Compassion. Many of the characters, including the narrator, are engaged in the narratives of other individuals and groups. There's a sense that it's possible for each of us to go beyond our own tribal obsessions. In this way, the book offers an antidote to identity politics. This is not a book about the Holocaust, but it's deeply engaged with many forms of human suffering, and it contains a passage about the Holocaust that was, at least to me, remarkably insightful and moving, while remaining, like most of the book, calm and understated.

3. History. The book analyzes New York as a palimpsest containing traces of all that has happened before. If you're not already an expert, and maybe if you are, you'll learn plenty of new things about the city.

4. Classical music. Ditto. If you don't want to listen to Mahler by the end of the book, there might be something wrong with you.

5. Art history. Ditto. Note that Cole studied art history. There's a scene in which the narrator, Julius, visits an art exhibit. It's like visiting the mind of an art historian and looking out through his eyes.

4. Psychology. Julius, a psychiatrist, is a preternaturally keen observer of his own thoughts, and an equally keen listener to other people's discourses.

5. The immigrant experience. Most of the characters are discussed partly in terms of their relationship to migration. What does it mean to move across the world? Is it possible to have two spiritual homes? What is the nature of one's allegiance to each? This relates, unless I'm being completely obtuse, with the book's title. The title directly refers to Brussels, but indirectly to New York, and the implication is (again, unless I'm missing the point) that New York has survived and thrived by being open to new arrivals.

6. Historical and personal memory. What aspects of the past do we seek to retain through acts of memory? What do we obliterate in order to move unfettered into the future?

7. Contemporary history. The book engages with 9/11, refugees, and global climate change. The present appears in the context of a deep vision of history. Cole gives us a lucid discussion of this historical moment; Open City is both a mirror that reflects and a lamp that illuminates.

8. The effects of light on physical objects. Some of the visual details -- small stuff -- read like things that Vermeer would have written if he had been a novelist. A man that Julius sees one day is described like this: "He was silhouette dark, and his body bore signs either of long hours at the gym or of a lifetime of physical labor." And later, "I could no longer see his bright black back among the throng in the direct glare of the sun."

Cole's prose bears signs of long hours at the computer and a lifetime of intellectual labor. In other words, the prose is seriously buff. It's likely to appeal to both your mind and your heart, and it might make you a slightly wiser person.
69 internautes sur 77 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8dec8ea0) étoiles sur 5 One to love, and to reread 8 février 2011
Par Jean Morris - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Open City is an exceptional novel.

Its intense, detailed and specific narrative, unravelling inside the mind of one man, Julius - a young Nigerian-German doctor completing his residency in psychiatry in a New York hospital - brings the city of new York hauntingly to life in a different, slower, deeper way from anything I've ever read. From this detail and specificity, it reaches out widely to the global flows of our fluxing, ungraspable world, personified by the various immigrants and asylum seekers he encounters. It reaches in, too, to touch the reader's mind and senses and emotions. For this restrained, intellectual voice, you realise, is piercingly sensitive - it gets to you!

This is not one for the fan of plot-heavy pageturners, perhaps. Julius spends much time alone, walks a lot and thinks a lot, about art and memory and history. He sees a lot, as loners sometimes do, and has strange, surprising, significant encounters, often with other immigrants, as loners sometimes do.

His story, perhaps, goes nowhere much. And yet, in his actual journey to Brussels, his journeys of memory back to Nigeria, and in the mouths and memories of those he meets from far-flung places, it goes to Africa, to Europe... and to places in the heart.

It travels too, through his observations and reflections, in time, political and cultural history. Full of seeming digressions, it digresses in fact not at all, but is a seamless deepening through detail of the whole picture and atmosphere of today's global city.

And it goes to a sharp inner twist that you will not forget.

It's a book to love, and to reread many times.
90 internautes sur 102 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8decc0fc) étoiles sur 5 Life in the slow lane 13 février 2011
Par Mona D. - Publié sur
Format: Relié
New Yorkers are often heard to say that they have not yet been to Ellis Island or taken a walk to the Cloisters. Teju Cole's Open City nudges us out of our complacency and opens our eyes to everyday life, the life that passes us by while we rush around. This book makes us pause, look around, think of the people past and present who have viewed these same city streets. A well thought out and wonderfully written prose pulls you into a year of Julius's life: his sensitivity to what goes on in another's life, his failure to fully reckon with his own delusions. As other reviewers have said, this book is really not for readers in a hurry. In the midst of our hectic life, Open City has given us a reason to slow down and add a few more years to our years. Nicely done, Mr. Cole.
82 internautes sur 93 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8decc45c) étoiles sur 5 Dead Man Walking 9 avril 2011
Par Village Green - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Julius, a New York City psychiatry intern in his early 30s, is an African with a white German mother and black Nigerian father. Racism, politics, mental states, music and death are the dominant themes of Open City, with death a constant chord in this monotone chant.

Open City begins with Julius taking long walks around New York City. With elegant descriptions and historic data, it gives a refreshing look at parts of the city seen hundreds of times, as well as those avoided or rarely seen. And as a reader and great walker, it drew me in immediately.

I thought I would love this book because Teju Cole is so wonderfully descriptive about what he sees around him, but soon I felt estranged from this character. He is one-dimensional. A ghost (not literally) who expresses little, feels little, is not particularly involved with his own life. He does not attach to anyone or anything deeply. It is a surface life, this camera of a person who takes many pictures but just snaps and keeps walking. Even Julius's own horrid actions are slipped over without attachment or concern.

Cole brings up racism and politics and death, but he is like a tour guide: On your left is where this horrible event occurred; on your right we see this injustice. There's no there, there.

I think Cole has literary skill--and if he intended to portray emptiness and alienation, he has done that well. But the themes just don't feel justified.
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HASH(0x8decc678) étoiles sur 5 open novel? open question 22 avril 2011
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur
Format: Relié
There is much to admire about the elegant yet restless writing of *Open City*. I was content to meander about Morningside Heights with the narrator, a flaneur who conveys NY spaces very well. However, conveying characters -- people -- is a but trickier for the novelist. His discrete observations never quite come together in a novelistic way. I don't require plot from books, but there does need to be some development, some realization or even question to hang your hat on, even if it is only in the realm of philosophy. Perhaps this might have been a more successful book had it been a collection of essays, since the writer seems keen to show what he knows about what it means to be human in the 21st century (and indeed, to show what he knows about all kinds of things that don't feed into some basic trajectory). The closest we get to a structure that might lead us somewhere is an accusation in the end (I won't spoil here). The narrator does absolutely nothing with this important claim: doesn't deny, embrace, mourn it, although he presents himself as a sensitive thinker.

This might have something to do with a troubling relationship with women; however much the narrator strives to show how sophisticated he is on the issues of race and religion, he is utterly antiquated and dull on the subject of women. We are told that this one is not physically beautiful, this one is -- and somehow this is supposed to shed light on something. Bleh. The narrator can only really see women as people when they are ancient somehow, long devoid of sexuality (but of course even then he needs to talk about how she must have been a great beauty.... why? why? Not so open there, Julius (or Cole)). This is important because we are carefully prepped to not like the female character who accuses the main character... how? by delineating her unattractiveness -- both her personality but naturally her looks are rather repellent (to Julius): small eyes, purple blotches... well, of course we will let this man off the hook, given such a tableau.
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