I heard some good things a while back about Teju Cole being a young, hip, talented novelist but I honestly found it tough to enjoy his debut novel Open City, which came out in 2012 and earned him acclaim. Set predominantly in New York City, the narrator meanders while working as a psychiatrist and pondering various things. With a brief vacation to Belgium and some flashbacks of his childhood in Nigeria, which echoes the heritage of Cole as an American-born Nigerian who grew up in Nigeria, the plot fleshes out the narrator’s life as a series of diffuse and conflicting segments, such as a mixed upbringing and a distant relationship with his mother that then escalates into estrangement. It is, for lack of a better word, a haunting novel and I felt it drifted a lot without any focal point.
While that may have been deliberate, it seemed a little too contrived and dull. The book does make you think at some points, such as the narrator’s random but deep thoughts about the question of blackness and alien identities. I also did think part of the narrator’s life applied to mine as I do drift in life and wonder about issues randomly.
Another fault with the book, and it is a major one, is that near the ending, the narrator is confronted with a shocking accusation about his past by a female friend, but he doesn’t react to it and the book concludes without referring to it anymore. We never know how the narrator feels about this disturbing episode, and this just made me feel absolutely no sympathy or connection with the narrator. Which is also I felt about the book too.