I am not to write about this book as post-colonial literature or world literature or diaspora literature or Nigerian literature or North American literature.
This is a book and it is written by an author.
An author with a background (as every author has).
An author with his personal luggage (as every author has).
Let me stop with this introduction!
Julius, a psychiatrist in New York, walks the streets of his hometown. He walks the streets of Central Park and the area around it. He describes the people he meets, the shopwindows, the cars that pass by, the weather. He notes and he notes down. You can follow his footsteps with Google Maps.
His days are spent in a local hospital where he works. A few weeks are spent in Brussels, where he went to look for his grandmother (from German descent), but his search is very soon left and he walks the streets, enters a museum, talks with people in a bar and an internet-facility.
In his flashbacks he walks in the country where he was raised. His boarding schooldays at a Militairy School in the north of this country Nigeria.
His wanderings through all of these places are wanderings in his mind. He writes down the names of the streets and he develops in this way a map of mind. A mind that is on the search for his place in the world. A mind that is on the lookout for contacts (his father passed away and he has no contact with his mother). Fellow black men greet him with ‘bro’, but three ‘bro’s’ assault him on one of his walks. His girlfriend moves to the other coast of the country and sends him a message that she is about to get married. He visits a professor with Japanese roots, but what are his roots really in this country that did not trust him during the second world war? He enjoys a concert with Mahler-music, but he is the only person of colour in the concerthall.
Teju Cole opens up a city and its history going back to the early Dutch days (to the controversial Cornelis van Tienhoven). At the same time he opens up himself in his search for identity, roots, contact, brotherhood. In the open city the winds blow chilly.
I used a dictionary to learn the meaning of all these difficult words he uses in his books. He throws in his knowledge of art and literature, people and places, sometimes this is tiring.
Not even knowledge is bringing him closer to knowing people and relating to them.
Teju Cole – Open City – New York 2011