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The Secret Sharer

So saying, Julius passes a white man’s judgment upon Farouq, and dismisses him. He, like all the others, will vanish henceforth from the story.

It is immediately hereafter that Julius awakens from a dream set in Lagos, and, upon hearing the rainfall, is visited by the childhood memory of stealing a bottle of Coca-Cola and attempting, unsuccessfully, to masturbate. Long but very precise, this memory has itself the quality of a dream; and like a dream, it seems to point to, rather than to elucidate, its import. Of the sexual aspect of the recollection Julius notes,

For many years, I had been tempted to overinterpret the other events of that day, but what happened afterward, between my mother and myself, was due as much to any other day in my boyhood as to the day the rain began.

This, unexpectedly and yet (given his temperament) inevitably, is the most direct accounting of their rift in the entire book. Other later signs, more disturbing, may point us toward an interpretation; but there will be, in Open City, no closing of the case.

Teju Cole has achieved, in this book, a rare balance. He captures life’s urgent banality (think of Victor Klemperer, in his diaries of his life as a Jew in Nazi Germany, fretting endlessly about toothache or how to procure cigarettes), and he captures, too, the ways in which the greater subjects—violence, autonomy, selfhood, life and death—glimmer darkly in the interstices between bedbugs and Tower Records. The foreground and the background are, in the end, equally important; but by shifting perspective, we can greatly change the story that we tell. Each of us, no matter how clearly we see others, is guilty of potentially criminal blindness with regard to ourselves. The violence that we do and that is done to us remains, like the violence of our culture itself, often invisible. New York City itself is built upon bones, and the fact that we do not see them—that we cannot bear to see them—will not make them disappear.

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