Wednesday, May 27, 2009

EVERY DAY is for THE THIEF- A review!

Author: Teju Cole
Publisher: Cassava Republic
Year: 2007
Pages: 128
Price: N700

One reviewer described the book as a display of an acute grasp of how the city called Lagos functions- and I agree. Every day is for the thief is an iconic cultural depiction of our society. Using a first-person narrative technique, Teju Cole vividly captures the reality we sometimes prefer to deny.

The story begins at the Consulate on Second Avenue in New York and transports us to the lively city called Lagos. Every day is for the thief although a fiction, the novel is so factual content-wise. It chronicles the experience of an unnamed narrator as he takes you with him on an exciting but bumpy visit to Lagos after living in Diaspora for 15 years. Is he shocked by the level of corruption, insecurity, poor education, lack of infrastructure and social amenities, delusion of grandeur, dogmatism that people hold to religion, desperation of men, and its effect on our society? He tells us the story, leaving nothing out, as he shares in the struggle of the people and their seemingly complacent attitude and mentality to these burning issues/challenges.

I live in Lagos. But I do not think I could have told the story better than Teju Cole. Interestingly, the setting of the novel is an area I am familiar with, most of the places mentioned have I visited or traveled through. And the people described are similar to people I see or interact with everyday. But with a little exaggeration, Cole tells the story better in a new and interesting way.

His style of writing is mesmerizing. As the plot unfolds; you are made to feel what the narrator feels. The author does not mince words, but he does not waste them either, while telling our story in a “say it as it is” approach without inhibition- a style more African writers must adopt in telling our story right to the world.

The first chapter introduces us to the reality of life overseas and how similar the trend is to Nigeria- the desperation that justifies corruption. There is a Mr. Abdul almost everywhere we try to transact business. However, the chapter that follows, set in Lagos, exposes the corruption and negligence that has eaten deep into the system. And a sense of hope- why we must hope- is restored in Chapter six when the narrator meets his first cousin- a child that represents the future of our society.

Lagos comes alive again in chapter seven and we are enveloped in “the energies of Lagos life- creative, malevolent, ambiguous…” (pg 32). A bit of Cole’s exaggeration makes me squirm: ha! Mr. Author, I take the Danfo Bus almost everyday. It is not a transport system set aside for idiots as you depict here. I think the bit about literacy on Chapter eight is also stretched beyond truth. I definitely do not agree that “it is a hostile environment for the life of the mind.” Okay, I must keep in mind that the novel is a fiction, thus exaggeration allowed!

Reading the book Everyday is for the thief fills me with excitement, courage, tranquility, confusion, shame and fear about this society. “…and yet, and yet. The place exerts an elemental pull…there is no end to the fascination” (pg 57). In words and pictures- yes, Teju Cole shows off his photography skills which is presented in the pictures worth 5000 words that accompanies the chapters- this book tells you a lot about Lagos (things are changing for good though), and Lagos is where Nigeria begins…you will learn so much about the complexity of the country called Nigeria from the novel. The book is beautifully written in an expressive language, which makes it an interesting read. The powerful description makes the characters come alive in all the pages. The simplicity of the plot conciliates the underlying intensity.
But what does the author share in common with the narrator? Cole answers in his introductory note “the unnamed narrator of the story is similar to me in certain ways, and different in some other ways. But he and I are not the same person.” As the narrator returns to the USA, he provokes, and leaves us with the responsibility of challenging our social norms.
Every day is for the thief is a novel that will stand the test of time. Like Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart, I hope it will reach every bookshelf across the world and be around to remind us of where we are coming from. This review is not to tell the story but to make you go out, buy a copy and read it. I enjoyed reading it!


Chairman, said...

A big well done to you Lady Jennies " the harmless critic" Great review, i'm gonna get da book.

Femi Aderibigbe
Greenart Nigeria Ltd

Jennifer Ehidiamen said...

Thanks! yes, u need to read it bro!