Another Friday another book to review. For all lovers of Chimamanda Adichie, you know it was only a matter of time before I picked up a Teju Cole book and so this week I will be reviewing ‘Every Day Is For The Thief’. I haven’t read any novel by Teju Cole so I wasn’t exactly eager to pick this up but it was a recommended book for review and that it was recommended was enough for me.
If you missed last week’s review of Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus’ check it out here, and if you have suggestions on books you’d love to see reviewed drop a comment or send a mail to [email protected].
Like I said I have not read prior works by Teju Cole or really even heard of him. I was curious as to what he’d have to offer in this book and the title did more to heighten that curiosity. ‘Every Day Is For The Thief’, well, who is the owner? Reading the back of the book did not excite me but I liked the cover photo.
A young man decides to visit Nigeria after years of absence. Ahead lies the difficult journey back to the family house and all its memories; meetings with childhood friends and above all, facing up to the paradox of Nigeria, whose present is as burdened by the past as it is facing a new future.
Along the way, our narrator encounters life in Lagos. He is captivated by a woman reading on a danfo; attempts to check his email are frustrated by Yahoo boys; he is charmingly duped buying fuel. He admires the grace of an aunty, bereaved by armed robbers and is inspired by the new malls and cultural venues. The question is: should he stay or should he leave?
But before the story can even begin, he has to queue for his visa..
Teju Cole is a Nigerian writer, art historian, and photographer. He is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College. Born in the US (1975) to Nigerian parents, and raised in Nigeria, he currently lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of two books, a novella, Every Day is for the Thief, and a novel, Open City, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New York City Book Award for Fiction, the Rosenthal Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Internationaler Literaturpreis, and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, and the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature.
Teju Cole is a contributor to the New York Times, the New Yorker, Qarrtsiluni, the Atlantic, Granta, Aperture, Transition, A Public Space, and several other magazines. He is a contributing editor at the New Inquiry, and is currently at work on a book-length non-fiction narrative of Lagos. His photography has been exhibited in India and the US, and has been published in a number of journals.
‘Every Day Is For The Thief’ was honestly not what I expected, and even though I found myself on several occasions drifting off in thoughts while reading the book, I appreciate what Teju Cole was trying to do. Perhaps the book should be described as more of a narrative travelogue than anything. Based on a fictional character we get to experience different parts of Lagos through the eyes of a typical IJGB (I Just Got Back) or returnee.
It’s interesting the way the experiences are documented and it is almost as if the author takes painstaking steps not to seem overly pretentious, or is that just the character? From riding on a danfo bus, power cuts, getting duped by a fuel attendant, being up close and personal with Yahoo boys, getting threatened by Area boys and many more “Lagos Experiences” we get to see an old Lagos afresh.
In the book, Chimananda’s novel ‘Purple Hibiscus’ is described as having just being released so we can speculate that this novella is set between 2003 and 2004. To be honest I wasn’t familiar with that old Lagos, and can only base my comparisons on stories even I have been told about a more dangerous and harder Lagos. This is the Lagos that Teju Cole paints a picture of – I just don’t see the need for it. The book strikes me as more negative than even being a novel. Especially maybe because Lagos has come a long way so perhaps I am just being protective of the current changes. Granted the city still has quite a way to go but the efforts are disregarded and unrecognized in ‘Every Day Is For The Thief’.
Another thing that strikes me is the disjointed way the book is written. Hopefully this is a technique purposely adopted by the author but it didn’t sit well with me while reading. I had to jump from story to story without touching the ground. It might have been done to symbolize the chaotic and disjointed world that is Lagos City? Because reading the stories like that just seemed like I was jumping from uncompleted thought to uncompleted thought. For some people, that unpredictable type of narrative is what appeals but for me it isn’t.
The book seems to be filled with the character repeatedly questioning the ethics and rules guiding the city of Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. Most times through my read I felt like the character was just lamenting the situation of Nigeria and it was a bit tiring for me, he was after all, a Nigerian who had spent over a decade in another man’s land only to come back and turn his nose up at the decay all of them ran away from (sorry, I took the book a bit personal). As a result I did not really like the character. The character also teases us about whether he will return for good or not…at one point he says “I am not going to move back to Lagos,” another time he says “I am going to move back to Lagos. I must.”
All in all it was an eye-opening read. I was really able to see Lagos and Nigeria through the eyes of a critic. Intriguing. Funny at times and frustrating at times – a perfect blend perhaps.
What I Liked About The Book
I liked that I was able to relate to the book. A lot of his descriptions were apt and places that I could actually see in my mind while reading. Ojodu-Berger, Muson Centre, Onikan and more. The book was also able to merge humour and sarcasm in balanced proportions. While I don’t agree with the necessity of portraying Lagos in such light I can’t deny that the descriptions are honest and true. ‘Everyday Is For The Thief’ is undeniably the story of Lagos.
**Teju Cole is currently working on his third novel, Radio Lagos, which will be a non-fictional narrative of contemporary Lagos.
Have you read the book? What are your thoughts?