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Mark Olival-Bartley studied applied linguistics at Hawaii Pacific University, attaining B.A. and M.A. degrees in Teaching English as a Second Language, and poetry at the City College of New York. He is now writing a dissertation on the sonnets of E. A. Robinson at LMU, where he tutors composition alongside editing flyers on poetry and style. His poems and translations have appeared in journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the resident poet at EcoHealth, where his science-themed verse is regularly featured, and a senior copyeditor at Review of International American Studies. He also teaches at Münchner Volkshochschule and leads the Amerikahaus Literaturkreis.


Amerikahaus Literary Circle: 2 September 2015

Discussion Questions for Open City by Teju Cole

1.  Did you enjoy the story?  If so, what did you especially like?

2.  Like Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and Theo Decker in The Goldfinch, Julius, the narrator of Open City, is genuinely reflective and exquisitely eloquent in his recounting of his tale.  How does his narrative style differ from Scout’s and Theo’s?  

3.  The novel’s setting, of course, is post-9/11 New York City—and Cole writes with great specificity as to the places Julius visits:  How did this concrete approach to description work within your mind’s eye as a reader?  Was the section set in Brussels or the recalled memories of Nigeria effective in a like way at conveying a sense of place?

4.  As half-German and half-Nigerian, Julius seems utterly at home in New York.  Consider how Julius views issues of cosmopolitanism and immigration vis-a-vis the characters he encounters, most of whom are also immigrants:  What observations of culture and race does Julius make, and what did you think of them?

5.  Julius is a close observer of people, and he renders these observations in a seemingly candid way in real time, often revising what he opines when a closer look demands a change of assessment.  Does this make him a more reliable narrator?  And, if so, what do you then make of his total lack of comment upon Moji’s accusation?

6.  Whereas Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch was peppered with references to pop culture (say, with the likes of Lady Gaga and Starbucks), Cole’s novel is heavily laden with those that preoccupy Julius—those of architecture, classical music, art history, literature, photography, and the history of science.  What effect did these meditations have on you as a reader?

7.  In Brussels, why does Julius pursue the plain, middle-aged woman with the umbrella and not the young, beautiful waitress who had expressed an interest?  What awkwardness does he have with other men, especially those he calls “brother”?  Do these encounters foreshadow the stunning accusation Moji makes in the penultimate chapter?

8. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, we noted an authorial play with the nature of time:  How does Cole play in a like way with temporal perception during his description of Julius’ peregrinations about Manhattan?

9.   By the end, Julius literally sails off into the night.  How satisfying was this ending for you?  

Our title for October 2015 is The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer; for more information, including dates, please visit amerikahaus.de.

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