Migration and Transnationalism in Teju Cole's Open City

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The novel, titled Open City, is a metaphor which the author uses to allude to migration and globalization. It is also an obvious reference to the declaration of Brussels as an open city during World War 1. Cole examines multiple themes related to transnationalism as his protagonist, a Nigerian American doctor wanders about in New York in an attempt to track migrating birds, examines the numerous relationships he has had with other immigrants like himself.


Julius is an embodiment of the concept of transnationalism. He is a Nigerian half-caste born to a German mother and a Nigerian father who, as a result of the violence and hardship he faces at the military college, resolves to relocate to the US for what we may call “greener pastures”. After many years as a psychiatrist in New York, he sojourns to find his grandmother in Berlin and meets an elderly woman of German origin, on a flight to Brussels. This elderly woman reveals to Julius that she migrated from Berlin to US for a better life.


Upon arriving in Brussels, Julius meets another immigrant named Farouq, a young Morrocan intellectual, who sought refuge in Berlin and is convinced that his “otherness” will never be accepted by many European countries, particularly Germany. In other words, the freedom of movement that is associated with globalization does not necessarily come with true liberation to be one’s authentic self.


This paper will highlight transnationalism as its major theoretical construct and discuss the many effects of transnationalism as portrayed in the novel.  In view of this, it is pertinent to understand that a discussion of transnationalism and migration is almost impossible without referencing post-colonialism, at least within the context of Open City. The narrator, Julius, during one of his numerous wanderings in New York city gives an account of slave trade as he stands on the same ground underneath which slaves are buried and he almost immediately gives another account of his visit to a detention facility, not distant from the Negro burial ground, where he meets an African man doing all he could to remain in the USA. Although there are no visible connections between these two accounts narrated by Julius, however, we can revisit history to understand what Cole attempts to achieve.

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Odukomaiya, O. & Odukomaiya, O. (2022). Migration and Transnationalism in Teju Cole's Open City. Afribary. Retrieved from https://afribary.com/works/migration-and-transnationalism-in-open-city-by-omotoyosi-odukomaiya

MLA 8th

Odukomaiya, Omotoyosi, and Omotoyosi Odukomaiya "Migration and Transnationalism in Teju Cole's Open City" Afribary. Afribary, 12 Jan. 2022, https://afribary.com/works/migration-and-transnationalism-in-open-city-by-omotoyosi-odukomaiya. Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.


Odukomaiya, Omotoyosi, and Omotoyosi Odukomaiya . "Migration and Transnationalism in Teju Cole's Open City". Afribary, Afribary, 12 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022. < https://afribary.com/works/migration-and-transnationalism-in-open-city-by-omotoyosi-odukomaiya >.


Odukomaiya, Omotoyosi and Omotoyosi Odukomaiya . "Migration and Transnationalism in Teju Cole's Open City" Afribary (2022). Accessed January 24, 2022. https://afribary.com/works/migration-and-transnationalism-in-open-city-by-omotoyosi-odukomaiya