Book Review: Every Day is For the Thief by Teju Cole

A young Nigerian man living in New York returns home to Lagos for a visit. While there, he wanders the city and reflects on what has changed and what has stayed the same. He experiences the systematic corruption of consulate workers taking bribes, the internet cafes full of young men carrying out email scams, the everyday aggression and constant threat of violence, and the slow upswing in culture and education.

The format of this book is difficult to define; although it is technically a novel, it reads like a memoir and a travelogue. Instead of telling a cohesive story with a plot arc, Cole muses on different episodes of his narrator’s visit to Lagos. Each chapter is accompanied by a black-and-white photograph, and it is easy to imagine that many of the vignettes are drawn directly from Cole’s experience of Nigeria’s capital city.

Cole’s writing is exquisite, and I loved his portrayal of life in a city that I am so unfamiliar with. Every Day is for the Thief felt much more like a novel about a place than about a character; the narrator doesn’t even have a name, but Lagos and its people are described in detail. Although this might bother me in some books, I liked this approach with this particular novel. On the other hand, it does make me question Cole’s choice to write this book as a novel. Because it seems to be more about Lagos than the narrator’s personal journey, it might have made more sense to write this as a non-fiction book. Perhaps Cole wrote Every Day is for the Thief as a novel to tell the true story of a place without being restricted to his own, specific experiences. Instead of writing about real people he knows, he is able to create characters who combine their traits to tell a better story.

Whatever the format of this book, it’s a fascinating look at Lagos: the huge home of his aunt and uncle, where the power goes out every night, the muezzin’s call to prayer that wakes the narrator every morning, the shops selling bootleg CDs the small record store that sells jazz records, and the school that teaches children how to play music.

There has been a huge movement lately read more diversely, and this is an excellent book for readers wishing to expand their understanding of the world. Every Day is for the Thief offers a beautifully written glimpse into life in a corner of the world most of us haven’t experienced. Cole portrays Lagos in all of its vibrance and corruption as his narrator revisits the city of his youth, describing it from the perspective of someone who grew up in Lagos but later made the US his home.


17 thoughts on “Book Review: Every Day is For the Thief by Teju Cole

  1. Pingback: {diversity in li} friday #10: (re)sources | omphaloskepsis

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