I am pretty darn sure that Open City by Teju Cole will be the final book that I will read from the 2012 Tournament of Books (ToB). I thought I was done a couple of times, but then The Sisters Brothers caught my attention, then it just seemed as if I couldn't not read this one as it knocked out two of my favorites - The Marriage Plot and Sisters Brothers - and made the final. In a fun tournament quirk, fan favorites return to duke it out right before the finale... and Sister Brothers returned to meet Open City in the final... and took it down. While I thought Open City was a worth competitor, I was still pleased with result.
And just before I put ToB to rest for this year, I am proud to say that I read 12 of the 16 competition books, shattering my previous record of 7 from last year. It's going to be a tough mark to beat, but I'll see if I can do a better job of predicting potential ToB candidates throughout the year (nicely enough the ToB folks provide a "watch list" for next year's competition), so I don't spend most of January thru March reading just ToB books... tho I will say (again, probably repeating myself), that the ToB is always an interesting set of books. I didn't love them all, but the were all fascinating even with their flaws.
Ok, onto this book!
... and I reallly don't know where to begin when giving my thoughts about this debut novel. Though, given the nature of it, I think I could pretty much just start anywhere and work my way around it without worrying about where it's going or what I am saying or if it paints the full picture of the book or not. This is unlike any novel I have read recently and it was pretty much impossible to jump into a new book later the same day given the jolt back to a traditional narrative. (Sidenote: I really don't know how you folks who have multiple books going at a time do it!).
This is review is already sounding like all "uh-oh" in nature, but it's not. While it is not one of those books that I could not unequivocally recommend to anyone/everyone, this stream of consciousness tale of Nigerian-German psychiatric medical intern with a compulsion for wandering around New York City and sharing pretty much any thought in his head surprisingly enough (mostly) worked for me. The novel has been called plot-less, but I'd almost argue there was too much plot. I could not even fathom a guess at how many threads of Julius' (the narrator's) life, both past and present, were explored... with that only be eclipsed by the vast range of seemingly random topics -- sometimes presented in an essay-like manner, other times in a casual intellectual/high-brow trivia contest response kind of way. So splitting hairs, I'd say the Open City is form-less over plot-less.
I am guessing by now, you probably know by now if this book is for you or not. While I will fully admit to not "getting" it all at times, still the majority of what Cole threw up against the wall managed to stick for me. Though that's not to say/infer that Cole was throwing stuff out there just for heck of it (tho, on second thought, that's likely book club-debatable). This was a contemplative work that I kept thinking shouldn't really be working as well as it is (particularly for a debut novel - tho he was previously published). A fascinating exploration or observation of identity -- race, ethnicity, religion, nationality -- and themes of isolation and alienation in this modern world where we all seem more connected to each other than ever.