In one of the most enduring passages from Teju Cole’s 2011 novel Open City, the protagonist, a young man named Julius who has recently arrived in New York from Nigeria to complete a psychiatry fellowship, takes a series of ever-longer walks around the island of Manhattan. His observations are cool and detached until he hits upon a singular and exasperating fact: This is a place surrounded by water that has totally turned its back on the flow of its rivers and the ocean beyond them. “The shore was a carapace,” thinks Julius, “permeable only at certain selected points. Where in this riverine city could one fully sense a riverbank? Everything was built up, in concrete and stone, and the millions who lived on the tiny interior had scant sense about what flowed around them. The water was a kind of embarrassing secret, the unloved daughter, neglected, while the parks were doted on,
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