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Every Day Is for the Thief: Fiction Paperback – March 3, 2015
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“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
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top customer reviews
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Reading Cole's narrator's descriptions of government posters & billboards asking people to STOP NIGERIAN CORRUPTION w/o including web or phone information for complaints is so telling.
A good deal of heartbreaking material relaying the horrors of the Lagos - New Orleans slave market in the early 19th century is stunningly condensed into a few paragraphs w/an enormous impact.
Cole writes lovingly about his unnamed main character's aunty & uncle & school friends. Can't begin to do this book justice, but a sweet upside is his celebration of author Michael Ondaytee & a sideways reference to Tony Judd, both of who seems to have been cut from the same cloth as Cole himself. Wonderful. I loved this book.
It's satisfying to read that this author is still fairly young. Hopefully he'll write a lot more.
I greatly admire the subtle minimalist tone that Cole uses, yet the small chapters and short poetic sentences hold an emotional charge. Like when he is describing the estranged relationship with his mother or the violence of an angry mob! Also love the photography that is carefully interspersed throughout the book usually at the end of a chapter. Often I find books that do that distracting or at least underwhelming but works great here. I think the book is dispersed with many profound moments and the writing feels like we're gliding along slowly down calm dark waters. If nothing else this book has given me a small taste of life in Nigeria. Perhaps a bit tainted but nevertheless one man's authentic view. It's not impossible to go home again, but its often not easy.
The language is alternatingly sinuous and simple. Some passages I skimmed, and others I paused to underline. The overall piece I would call both an art and an effort, in what it feels like to read.
It's a short piece, one that I was able to consume in the span of two forty-minute bus rides. The quick digestibility of the writing is what bumped up my star rating to a 4 from what would have otherwise been a more solid three. If the memoir were longer, ot would require some more structural polishing to earn the same star rating from me.
So, to sum - enjoyable, insightful, and at times grabbing, but not entirely engrossing or particularly earth-shaking. Worth a read if you're curious, for the time it will take.