The Nigerian writer, Teju Cole, who was born in the US, grew up in Nigeria, and now lives in Brooklyn, visited the MFA Reading Program at the University of Baltimore recently, and we had the great privilege of having him visit our International Writing Workshop beforehand. He is also a photographer and an art historian (with a concentration in Brueghel) and is extremely self effacing about his writing, although his book, Open City, now out in paperback, has had rave reviews. As it should. He has been compared to writers ranging from W.G Sebald to J. M. Coetzee.
I haven’t finished reading Open City yet (too many final projects due all at once!) but it is an exquisitely interior book, written in the first person, from the point of view of Julius, who walks the streets of New York City. The voice is so authentic it reads almost like a memoir.
Why I wanted to blog about it here is because of the way Teju Cole describes how Julius listens to classical music Internet stations from Canada, Germany, or the Netherlands. (He avoided American stations, he says, because they had too many commercials for his taste–another plus for WBJC!)
I turned the computer’s speakers low and looked outside, nestled in the comfort provided by those voices, and it wasn’t at all difficult to draw the comparison between myself, in my sparse apartment, and the radio host in his or her booth, during what must have been the middle of the night somewhere in Europe.
The writing is all as evocative as this.
Then then there is a truly gorgeous passage later when he visits Tower Records and they begin to play Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in the shop.
I sat on one of the hard benches near the listening stations, and sank into reverie, and followed Mahler through drunkenness, longing, bombast, youth (with its fading), and beauty (with its fading). Then came the final movement … the birdsong and beauty, complaints and high-jinks of the preceding movements, had all been supplanted by a different mood, a stronger, surer mood. It was as though the lights had, without warning, come blazing into my eyes.
And so it goes on. I can’t remember if I’ve ever known a writer to conjure up the experience of music more vividly. Now, I can’t wait to finish the book.
books, music, new york