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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

After living in America for 15 years, a Nigerian writer returns to his homeland. Reunited with a beloved aunt, with whom he stays, he reconnects with a boyhood friend, now a struggling doctor, and visits the woman who was his first love, now married with a daughter, as he contemplates staying in Lagos. But he is struck by the omnipresent corruption, as officials at all levels, including police and soldiers, supplement often meager wages with bribes. He sees thieving “area boys” all around, Internet-scamming “yahoo yahoo” in cyber cafés, a jazz shop practicing piracy, and a national museum gone to ruin, its artifacts ill-maintained and its historical presentations inaccurate. Yet in addition to scoring high in corruption, Nigeria’s claim to fame is that it is the most religious country in the world and its people the happiest. This novella, a revised version of the first book written by Nigerian Cole, author of the acclaimed Open City (2011), is a scathing but loving look at his native land in measured, polished prose. --Michele Leber


“A luminous rumination on storytelling and place, exile and return . . . extraordinary.”San Francisco Chronicle
“[Teju] Cole is following in a long tradition of writerly walkers who, in the tradition of Baudelaire, make their way through urban spaces on foot and take their time doing so. Like Alfred Kazin, Joseph Mitchell, J. M. Coetzee, and W. G. Sebald (with whom he is often compared), Cole adds to the literature in his own zeitgeisty fashion.”—The Boston Globe
“Crisp, affecting . . . Cole constructs a narrative of fragments, a series of episodes that he allows to resonate.”The New York Times Book Review
“Hugely rewarding . . . [Every Day Is for the Thief] is both a celebration of one of the world’s most vibrant cities and a lament over what can be one of the most frustrating and difficult places to live. It is also a story of family breakup and an uneasy homecoming—the narrator has been away for fifteen years and must relearn how to navigate a place that was once home.”—NPR

“[Every Day Is for the Thief has] a restraint that allows [Teju Cole] to slip in these exquisitely rendered observations on life, love, art that leave you feeling richer and more attuned to your own reality once you’ve finished reading.”—Dinaw Mengestu, The Atlantic

“Shimmering . . . transcendent.”—The Seattle Times
“Wonderful . . . a book that never fails to find a thoughtful and essential thing to say.”—Los Angeles Times
“Fearless, nimble, and surprising.”—The Daily Beast

“To read Cole is to be swept away by the language of a master wordsmith. In Every Day Is for the Thief, the PEN/Hemingway Award winner turns his considerable talents to the character of the expatriate, a young Nigerian medical student living in New York City who returns home to Lagos for a short visit. In his adventures wandering the town, reflections on the Nigerian homeland and the self-as-outsider arise. This work was originally published in Nigeria in 2007, four years before the release of Cole’s novel Open City, but was not available in the U.S. until now. We are thankful that non-Nigerian readers can now enjoy Cole’s first novel.”The Root

“A Teju Cole novel is a reading experience matched by few contemporary writers.”Flavorwire

Every Day Is for the Thief, by turns funny, mournful, and acerbic, offers a portrait of Nigeria in which anger, perhaps the most natural response to the often lamentable state of affairs there, is somehow muted and deflected by the author’s deep engagement with the country: a profoundly disenchanted love. Teju Cole is among the most gifted writers of his generation.”—Salman Rushdie

“[A] tightly focused but still marvelously capacious little novel . . . built with cool originality . . . The house of literature [Cole] is busy creating is an in-between space with fluid dimensions, resisting entrenchment.”The Christian Science Monitor
“Direct and bracing, a short, sharp counterpunch to those who seek to romanticise Africa.”The Telegraph (UK)

Every Day Is for the Thief holds something for people with all levels of familiarity with Nigeria. It is an introduction and a provocation, a beautifully simple portrait and a nuanced examination. It invites you to steal a glimpse of Lagos.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A worthy precursor and, in a way, a companion piece to Cole’s highly acclaimed Open City . . . Cole’s narrator is compelling—someone with whom you want to spend time ambling, looking and chatting. I was happy to be along for the journey.”The Plain Dealer

“[Every Day Is for the Thief] expands and reinforces the accomplishments of Open City, confirming along the way that Teju is one of the foremost—for the lack of a better term—bicultural writers.”—Aleksandar Hemon, Bomb

Every Day Is for the Thief is a vivid, episodic evocation of the truism that you can’t go home again; but that doesn’t mean you’re not free to try. A return to his native Nigeria plunges Cole’s charming narrator into a tempest of chaos, contradiction, and kinship in a place both endearingly familiar and unnervingly strange. The result is a tale that engages and disturbs.”—Billy Collins

“Rich imagery and sharp prose . . . widely praised as one of the best fictional depictions of Africa in recent memory.”The New Yorker
Every Day Is for the Thief is unapologetically a novel of ideas: a diagnosis of the systemic corruption in Cole’s native Lagos and of corruption’s psychological effects. But, remarkably, the book avoids any of the chunkiness that usually accompanies such work. Emotional and intellectual life are woven too tightly together. The ideas make the character and vice versa.”The New Republic
Every Day Is for the Thief is a testament to [Nigeria’s] power to inspire.”Vanity Fair
“Excellently crafted . . . Optimism regarding the future of [Nigeria] pulsates steadily . . . through [Every Day Is for the Thief].”The Huffington Post
Every Day Is for the Thief is an amazing hybrid of a book. Imaginative, original, experimental, and sensual, this book revisits the way narrative is constructed with tenderness and style.”—Chris Abani, author of Graceland

“[Cole] revels in ambiguity, taking inspiration from authors who have toyed with what a novel can be, like W. G. Sebald, J. M. Coetzee and V. S. Naipaul. . . . There is a touch of Alfred Kazin and Joseph Mitchell—two of the most observant walkers in [New York City’s] history—in his books’ open-eyed flaneurs.”New York Observer

“It’s a novella, it’s a travel journal, it’s a laundry list of methods of thievery, it’s an examination of Nigerian societal norms, it’s the lamentations of an outsider, it’s a photo album. That Cole pulls this off at all is commendable. That it was his first book is a marvel.”The A.V. Club
“Omnivorous and mesmerizing . . . it is a pleasure to be in [the narrator’s] company.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Beautifully written . . . The Lagos presented here teems with stories.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Versatile, courageous, and hopeful . . . Cole writes without shock absorbers, and the ride is as terrifying as it is gorgeously set.”Interview

“With journalism-like objectivity, Cole by way of his narrator details a Nigeria that is violent and corrupt, but also multi-cultural and alive. . . . It’s his willingness to explore so many uncomfortable paradoxes that sears this narrative into our brains.”Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (March 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812995783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812995787
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on May 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Teju Cole has a novelistic style unlike many other fiction writers out there today. I guess whether or not you enjoy his work comes down to how you respond to that style. Because here's the thing: nothing happens in terms of plot. That is true of both of Cole's novels so far: Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief. In Open City, I couldn't abide the meandering style and the sense that none of what was happening was going to lead to anything. EDIFTT works better, but ultimately falls victim to the same trap. There's an actual pretense to this book that was lacking in Open City. This one has a narrator returning to his native Nigeria following a long, self-imposed absence, which automatically provides the reader with a framework for everything to follow (Open City was simply about a Nigerian ex-pat taking long walks and pondering numerous things that don't tie together). The thing is, Cole steadfastly refuses to develop this premise any further. We get some details about the narrator as the pages progress, but he never becomes more than a cypher. The story, such as it is, instead takes the form of little vignettes as the narrator travels his former homeland and observes. The problem is that each vignette is essentially illustrating the same exact point: that Nigeria is riddled with corruption.

The basic progression is this: Nigeria is corrupt; let me illustrate that for you. Nigerians don't make enough money to survive without enforcing corruption; let me illustrate that for you. Children are also bred for corruption at a young age; let me illustrate that for you. Have I mentioned that corruption has infiltrated all levels of Nigerian society? Let me illustrate that for you (again). A small percentage of Nigerians try to live honestly, but their efforts get drowned out by the system.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAME on March 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In plain, often unadorned, but still gracefully eloquent, prose, Teju Cole does for his Nigerian hometown, Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city, in his latest novel “Every Day Is for the Thief”, what he did for New York City in his memorable debut novel “Open City”. Using a literary style that could be mistakenly viewed as memoir, and in prose that may remind readers of a compelling, often intoxicating, blend of Ernest Hemingway, Frank McCourt and Paul Theroux, Cole takes us on an illuminating journey through Lagos, via the eyes of a young writer who is returning from the United States to his hometown for the first time in years. A young, carefully observant, writer who misses nothing due to his keen powers of observation and superlative skills as a photographer. (A noteworthy emerging photographer of “street” documentary fine art photography whose work has been exhibited in the United States and in India, Cole’s own photographs of Lagos are included in almost every chapter.) He confronts the “informal economy” of Lagos frequently during his sojourn, dealing with corrupt government officials, tollbooth clerks and police, as though they were necessary, almost indispensable, aspects of the city’s complex governmental landscape. He takes us to bazaars where teens are surfing the web, willingly committing e-mail fraud, as though it was a daily, almost routine, aspect of their lives. He shows us a city, Lagos, and a country, Nigeria, that is far more religiously and ethnically diverse than those of us in North America might be willing to admit.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on June 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Why visit Lagos? Maybe there are a million untold stories, but the writer finds it impossible to hear himself think. The noise. The exhaustion.
The author is a Nigerian medical doctor, training for shrinkdom in New York.
His narrator is seemingly the same man, but there is a trap. We are tricked into believing that this is a travel book. It is, but it is also fiction. Or is it? Hard to say.

Narrator travels to Nigeria for the first time since 15 years. We are not immediately told why he makes the trip. We assume curiosity mixed with nostalgia. In fact, we are never given one specific reason, we are left conjecturing.

The dominating theme in the first chapters is money and lubrication. We see petty corruption: by diplomats in the Nigerian Consulate in New York, by officials in Lagos airport, by cops and toll booth operators on Lagos streets....the border lines between asking for bribes, or for ransom money, or for tips, or 'simply' begging are hazy. And then the Nigerian specialty: advance fee fraud, the profession of the yahoo yahoos, a very special class of yuppis.

Another dominating theme is violence: armed robberies, muggings, lynchings, road rage, accidents, the permanent noise.... The book is surely not a candidate for Lagos tourism promotion awards.
And: lost relationships. Can they be recovered? Should they?

We are told in lean, efficient language, how the hero gradually adjusts his memories and perceptions to the new realities. One always needs time to see what is in front of us, rather than what is in our head. A broadening of the concept of optical illusions.
Reflections on writing are a part of the journey. Ondaatje, Vikram Seth, García Marquez are named as potential role models, but Cole is no imitator.
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