The opening paragraphs of Teju Cole’s novel serve to establish the protagonist and first-person narrator as a person who is physically finding his way around Manhattan, New York City. (We later learn that he is male.) The narrator begins by delineating one of his standard walking routes and ends the first paragraph by observing the method and pace by which he initially became familiar with New York. This paragraph also provides the information that the narrator is a physician who was then doing a psychiatry fellowship. The reader learns that this job is stressful, and the walks offer a respite to the busy-ness.
In this way, ... New York City worked itself into my life at a walking pace.
It is interesting that the narrator personifies the city as if it were doing the action of acquainting the speaker with it rather than the other way around. Furthermore, the emphasis on the pedestrian nature of his excursions is significant. While the reader does not know if there was a financial limitation, the narrator mentions distance as the primary reason they would ride rather than walk: “I often found myself at quite a distance from home.”
The second paragraph discusses birds, and this analogy begins to acquaint the reader with the “migrant” concept that features strongly in the novel. Later we will learn that he is a migrant. But rather than people being migrants, the narrator refers to birds. He does not inform the reader of his conclusions, instead noting the questioning that began in his mind.
Not long before this aimless wandering began, I had fallen into the habit of watching bird migrations from my apartment, and I often wonder now if the two are connected.
He also draws an analogy between humans and birds, comparing his observations of the flying birds to the idea that they, from above, might be observing us. The narrator also reveals himself to be a person of imagination and even doubt. This could be an indicator of a different kind of doubt to be revealed later, such as a crisis of faith.
I doubted in some part of myself whether these birds ... really did exist.