Teju Cole - Every Day is For the Thief (4 stars)

Teju Cole - Every Day is For the Thief

A powerful blend of fiction, memoir and travelogue set in modern Nigeria

Returning home for the first time in 15 years, the unnamed narrator of Teju Cole's novel Every Day is for the Thief plunges into the chaos and exhausting inefficiency of a Nigeria plagued by corruption. Bribes are disguised as tips while extortion and harassment is considered normal, the population long since distracted by a simmering religiosity. Reconnecting with his friends and family in Lagos after having left 'under a cloud' all those years before, the narrator searches, for the most part in vain, for signs of an independent cultural life in a society that seems committed to its own ruin.

Originally published in Nigeria in 2007, this blend of fiction, memoir and travelogue is more direct, and its narrator less unreliable, than Cole's award-winning Open City (2012). Interspersed in the text are Cole's own black and white photographs, which are at once intimate and distant, abstract and unflinchingly specific. It is a book littered with literary references, from Oliver Twist to Tomas Tranströmer and (especially) to Michael Ondaatje, but perhaps the presiding spirit is the one writer who is never mentioned directly – VS Naipaul. Like Naipaul, Cole brings to this former colonial territory a ruthlessly unsentimental eye, alert both to the failings of Nigerian society and to the vast historical injustice that has been done to it. While the narrator finds the Musical Centre of Nigeria an almost miraculous space of ambition and dignity, the shabby National Museum seems more like a 'neglected high school project.' 'What,' the narrator wonders, 'are the social consequences of life in a country that has no use for history?' Compressed, blunt, and seething with suppressed anger, this is a powerful study of homecoming and the regret that always follows in its wake.

Published by Faber and Faber on Thu 3 Apr.

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