Monday, March 7, 2011

Open City

There is this new book out, Open City by Teju Cole, and it's been getting some wonderful reviews. There is a reason for that. The book is actually fantastic. I say that only some seventy pages into it and so I might be proven otherwise, but right now this book is a beautiful little object. James Wood heard the voice of W.G. Sebald in these pages, his tone, a similar style of writing. That was all I needed to hear to go out and purchase this book, Sebald one of my favorite writers, one who I need to return back to soon, it being years now since I tore through his books, utterly enchanted.

This novel has a similar tone, but not one that mimics Sebald, something its own. The narrator, a Nigerian immigrant doing his medical residency in New York City, wanders the streets of New York, going on long walks, much like Sebald, and thinking about the course of history, both the long-view historical record of centuries and also that of one's personal history, the two intertwining, and the book a beautiful meditation on a slew of subjects, writers and artists names bandied about as they relate to thoughts that pop into and out of the narrator's head.

It has a beautiful pacing to it, the writing, that slows you down when reading it, puts you in a meditative state as well. There are beautiful pages that stretch and stretch. The last several pages of Chapter 4 absolutely blew me away when I read them today as I rode the train into the city and back home. These pages detail a walk through Battery Park City and a walk that passes near the site of Ground Zero, a construction site. I would like to just type out these pages and show you how amazing this stuff is, the echoes of not only Sebald here and his fascination with historical memory and amnesia, but also very strong echoes of Fitzgerald's writing about the Dutch sailors laying eyes on the New World at the end of The Great Gatsby. Instead, I'll type a paragraph and encourage you to read this as well. This is really great literature and it is thrilling to read:

"And, as thought leads to thought, standing there looking at the river, I felt an unexpected pang of my own, a sudden urgency and sorrow, but the image of the one I was thinking of flitted past quickly. It had been only a few weeks, but time had begun to dull even that wound. It was getting cold, but I stood awhile longer. How easy it would be, I thought, to slip gently into the water here, and go down to the depths. I knelt, and trailed my hand in the Hudson. It was frigid. Here we all were, ignoring that water, paying as little attention to the pair of black entities between which our little light intervened. Our debt, though, to that light: what of it? We owe ourselves our lives. This, about which we physicians say so much to our patients, about which so little can reasonably be said, folds back and also asks us questions. I wiped my hand on my jacket, and breathed on my fingers to warm them up." (56)

I think the air's been more humid lately. My hair had been getting poofier and poofier. It was looking worse and worse. Look good, feel good. I cut just about all of it off today, shaving the sides and back of my head with a #1 setting on my clippers, the hair falling into my kitchen sink, on to the white and black checkered floor of my kitchen. I scissored the top of my hair down into something I felt looked cute. I showered off all this hair, all this weight of winter and laziness and things not accomplished. It went down the drain. I swept up the hair afterwards in the kitchen, dropped it into the trash can, then mopped the floor down. I feel freer, happier. See you later you last few months. Feeling fresh and ready to start with these things I keep talking about.

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