Date Read: June 26th 2014
Published: March 25th 2014 (originally published in Nigeria by Cassava Republic Press in 2007)
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
For readers of J. M. Coetzee and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Every Day Is For The Thief is Teju Cole’s second novel, following his critically acclaimed debut, Open City—winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and named one of the best books of the year by more than twenty publications.
A young Nigerian living in New York City goes home to Lagos for a short visit, finding a city both familiar and strange. In a city dense with story, the unnamed narrator moves through a mosaic of life, hoping to find inspiration for his own. He witnesses the “yahoo yahoo” diligently perpetrating email frauds from an Internet café, longs after a mysterious woman reading on a public bus who disembarks and disappears into a bookless crowd, and recalls the tragic fate of an eleven-year-old boy accused of stealing at a local market.
In spare, precise prose that sees humanity everywhere, interwoven with original photos by the author, Every Day Is For The Thief is a wholly original amalgamation of fiction, memory, art, and travel writing. Originally published in Nigeria in 2007, this revised and updated edition is the first time this unique book has been available outside Africa. You’ve never read a book like Every Day Is For The Thief because no one writes like Teju Cole.
Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)
“Every day is for the thief, but one day is for the owner” is a Yoruba proverb that Teju Cole adopted to capture the essence of this travelogue, Every Day Is For The Thief. The protagonist of this travelogue is a Nigerian born, now naturalized American psychiatry student who lives in New York. His calm demeanor gives the book a progressive, logical flow as readers hear his thoughts. I actually read the book thinking the protagonist was Teju Cole himself… just because readers are not given much detail on the protagonist- like his name, his stature or his age. Since the novel isn’t plot driven, each chapter is a vignette where the nameless protagonist discusses different experiences of his trip to Lagos during his Christmas vacation.
A lot of the Nigerian experiences and adventures Cole writes about are common in Ghana, but not as severe! The corruption heavily practiced by the police, the hustle and bustle of the city with zooming okadas (motorcycles) on pot-holed roads, the regular power outages, the wide social and economic disparities and increased armed robbery cases in the suffering economy are all prevalent in Ghana as well.
Certain parts of the book wowed me: the widespread of internet frauds conducted in Internet cafes by ‘yahoo yahoo’ boys, the burning of a child thief in a car tire, the gangs that roam the streets of Lagos demanding thousands of naira while being ever-ready to maim citizens were pretty wild! These incidents may seem exaggerated and fictitious but I believe these things actually occur in Lagos, since I’ve heard similar stories from some Nigerian friends. After reading this novel, non-Nigerians may think twice before visiting Lagos because it was written as if Nigerians are always living on the edge of danger!
I loved how the protagonist was a ‘returnee’ as he had been away from Lagos for fifteen years. He sort of returned to Lagos as a stranger with his assimilated Western ways (of democracy). This allowed him to share his shock in the craziness and delight in being back home with a wide array of readers- both foreign and fellow Africans. The protagonist’s fluid identity will help readers unfamiliar with Nigeria to take in Lagos from an insider, yet outsiders’ lens.
This is a suitable book for anyone who would love to learn about the rambunctious nation of Nigeria! Teju Cole expertly discusses and simplifies some of the complex issues the country faces such as corruption, government issues, the oil sector, the health sector etc. Some people may be even more apprehensive about visiting the nation after reading jaw-dropping descriptions, but I’m still keen on visiting Nigeria- Abuja to be precise!
★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!
Purchase Every Day Is For The Thief on Amazon