Shut Open City as quickly as you open it - A review of Teju Cole's novel

Anybody who follows Teju Cole on twitter, will be aware of his penchant with crafting clever sentences and his uncanny ability to present the most macabre news in a jovial 140 character limit. The Nigerian author is famous for his tweets called ‘small fates’ , Examples --

“Nobody shot anybody,” the Abuja police spokesman confirmed, after the driver Stephen, 35, shot by Abuja police, almost died.

Knowledge is power. He graduated in business administration in Calabar,and Charles Okon has since administered sixteen armed robberies.

The 140 character limit acts as a constraint, yet is the true test for a journalist to condense information that has relevance and the required punch. I picked up Open City after reading a number of Cole’s tweets convinced that his book will be filled with lip smacking sentences, and powerful stories. I was disappointed.

The Independent describes Cole’s book as an “exhilarating” post-melting-pot novel. Cole’s book is anything but exhilarating. It’s about a young Nigerian doctor’s rant about everything, yet nothing. The character, Julius, glances over history, politics and bird migration, just as any commoner would do, but doesn't present a radical view nor engages the reader. Simply put, it’s just a random conversation of things we already know.

While the book might be illuminating to a 11th grade kid who wants to know why Israel and Palestine are fighting, it serves no purpose for literary enlightenment or incisive knowledge. A thorough Wikipedia read should suffice.

Like history and politics, the book also touches on human behaviour but doesn't offer to take sides, delve into specific details, offer a chance to learn and understand something new, anything illuminating.

At best, Cole’s novel is mash-up of everyday conversations on random topics. Not only is it a cumbersome read, the only thing I learnt from the book is how incessantly pestering bedbugs can be, much like the protagonist’s never-ending narration.

Bottomline: Follow Teju Cole on twitter, he provokes you, engages you, is funny, witty and his crafting of sentences will leave you spell-bound. Just don’t read his book.

1 comment:

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