Who are the main characters in Open City? How are they depicted? 

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Open City by Teju Cole is a novel about Julius, a Nigerian-American doctor living in New York City where he is a resident specializing in psychiatry. The novel follows Julius as he wanders through the city making only fleeting contacts with other people, at times simply observing them and at times interacting with them and eliciting their life stories. 

One of the few friends of Julius we encounter is Professor Saito, a gay, Japanese-American literature professor now dying of cancer who is at peace with his own mortality. He talks about how he was interned in a prison camp in the United States during World War II and how he kept himself occupied by reflecting on poems that he had memorized. 

He also briefly encounters another friend who is an Earth Science professor. He also reminisces about a dinner with the Indian surgeon Dr. Gupta and remembers his own grandmother. We are also introduced to Julius's girlfriend Nadege, who has left him.

Julius meets a variety of migrants and travelers including Saidu, a refugee from a civil war in Liberia, the Belgian Dr. Maillotte, his Belgian landlord Mayken, his childhood friend Moji, and the student Farouq. In general, many of the minor characters show up for fairly short scenes and are often present primarily to stimulate reflections about migration, identity, and ethnicity.

xmcmillin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Open City is a character study of one character: a Nigerian-American male doctor named Julius. He is the only true main character in the book. All of the other characters are thus seen from his point of view, and through the lens of his opinions about them.

Julius is in his early thirties, and is completing a residency in psychiatry in New York City. He is quiet, introspective, and has a great deal of empathy for and interest in other human beings. The most prominent relationships he has in the novel are with Nadege, his girlfriend, and Professor Saito, a retired teacher of literature.

Nadege is a black woman of about Julius's age. She is kind and assertive. She has just moved to San Francisco as the novel begins, and Julius slowly realizes their relationship is over.

Professor Saito is one of Julius's old teachers. He is a peaceful and mellow elderly man. His death saddens Julius greatly.

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Open City

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