Julius is a fascinating man. You travel through the book inside his head and experience a deep reverie as he walks through his life in Manhattan, Brussels, and through his memories of Nigeria and Germany. Julius is a complicated man who wonders more than he speculates. As he walks, he considers the things he sees and puts them in the context of his memories and experiences and yet he seems detached. He is the perpetual observer.
This cultivates the reader’s respect for him as an intellectual, but as Julius develops through the story, and as we learn more about him, the reader can’t help but feel a gentle discomfort with his almost vouyeristic descriptions of… himself. (is that even possible?) He seems like a soul adrift through museums, concerts, coffee shops, and travels. He experiences success and challenges on both personal and professional areas of his life and still he seems to find it all interesting but somehow unmoving.
SPOILER ALERT It’s not until the end of the book that the reader’s affection for Julius erodes. When we see him in the role of perpetrator and then victim of violence. In both roles he maintains his cerebral detachment of events and simply observes himself. It’s as if his career as a professional psychiatrist has left him with an attachment disorder of his own. END SPOILER
When I finished reading, I was grateful to Julius for taking me with him through his thoughtful wanderings and letting me eavesdrop on his fascinating conversations with people from all over the world. While his detachment ultimately became excessive, it was a good reminder that a little detachment in travel is a wonderful thing.
Letting go of our own expectations and our own point of view is what lets us, like Julius, take the world in on it’s own terms in this moment. That is the beauty of this book. Through Julius, we see so many people and places on their own terms and our final discomfort with the character is mainly due to our own expectations of what a human being should be.