Last Reviewed on October 30, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1492
Most of Open City is based on the experiences of Julius, who is finishing the last year of his psychiatry fellowship in New York City. When he's not working, he wanders the city. During his travels, he speaks to many people about their lives and makes observations about the city around him.
As Open City begins, Julius describes the walks he takes through Morningside Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan. He explains that it's only fifteen minutes from Central Park and ten minutes from Sakura Park. The more often he walks, the longer his walks become; they help him remove himself from his long, busy days at the hospital. It gets to the point that Julius is walking so far that he has to take the subway home at the end of his travels. Julius was most recently in a relationship with a girl named Nadege, who now lives in San Francisco. Though they broke up because they drifted apart, the two remain friends.
Julius doesn't live near his family, and they aren't emotionally close. He isn't sure how long it's been since he's seen his oma (or grandmother), who is in a nursing home somewhere in Brussels, nor does he know how to get in touch with her. She is estranged from her daughter, Julius's mother, who always told Julius that his oma was small-minded and difficult. When his oma visited Julius in Nigeria when he was eleven, though, he found her to be patient and kind—even though his parents barely tolerated her during the same visit, and his mother and his oma stopped speaking again afterwards. Julius realizes that he could get her location from his mother, but he has been estranged from his mother since he was seventeen. (His father died of tuberculosis during Julius's third year at boarding school.)
Though Julius mostly enjoys his work, there are times he becomes frustrated with it. He says that many people believe psychiatry is a less brutal training program than other specialties—and he also believes that—but he finds that it can also be discouraging to lack concrete solutions to his cases. At times, Julius is exhausted by the mental preparation and emotional focus necessary to meet with patients.
Julius spends a good deal of his free time taking advantage of what the city has to offer. He enjoys the museums, parks, and concerts, and connects deeply with what he sees even when alone. One night, he decides to go to the American Folk Art Museum on the spur of the moment and spends several pages musing on various aspects of the exhibits. He notes the "simple, open-faced, and awkward art" that stems from devotion to craft even without money or patronage, as well as the peculiar silence of John Brewster's portraits, each of which he feels is
a sealed-away world, visible from without, but impossible to enter. . . . I saw the paintings as records of a silent transaction between artist and subject.
Julius finds out that his friend and former teacher Professor Saito has cancer. At eighty-nine years old, Saito is the oldest person Julius knows, and Saito took him under his wing at Maxwell College even after he was unable to get a good grade in Saito's English literature class. He wanders home again after hearing this news and talks to his neighbor, only to find out that his neighbor's wife had died six months before. Julius is shocked that he didn't know and wonders how he could have passed the man in the hall and gone on his way without realizing the grief his neighbor was feeling.
Another day, Julius goes to see The Last King of Scotland , a film about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who murdered three hundred thousand Ugandans while he was in power and destroyed Uganda's economy. It makes Julius think of a dinner he attended: the host had to leave Uganda because of Amin and was openly opposed to African people in general because of that experience. Julius feels that the bitterness is directed...
(The entire section contains 1492 words.)
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