Friday, April 19, 2019

Review: "Every Day is for the Thief" by Teju Cole

At times feeling more like a travel guide or a thinly disguised polemic than a fictional novel, Teju Cole’s debut work of fiction Every Day is for the Thief (although published in the States after his official first novel Open City) offers glimpses into what interests Cole and what themes would show up in his later novel. It showcases a young man coming back to his home country of Nigeria after having been gone for years, ambivalent about his relationship with at it after a long absence and fully aware as to the country’s contradictory nature, as well as his contradictory feelings about his experience. It flows effortlessly from idea to idea, from scene to scene, Cole demonstrating his affinity for snapshots of life (it’s rather appropriate that many chapters are preceded, interrupted or concluded with a picture that Cole took himself) rather than a streamlined narrative that is easy to follow along. There is little plot to be had as well as little conflict, but it remains fascinating through most of the books 162 pages. I will divulge a few of my favorite sections, much like I do with short stories and pick out what works and what doesn’t. The first 50 pages are the best, as he visits the Nigerian consulate in New York on his way back to Lagos and views the trouble others not as lucky as he is have as they try to travel between countries, a running theme throughout many of the chapters. Once home, sections like his description of an Internet café filled with people formulating those Nigerian scam emails, as well as the problems the city has with crime, retelling a harrowing story of the murder of a distant relative. If Cole has one weak spot, it is character, and the side characters, ones he knows like his aunts and uncles or his first girlfriend, to an eager local law clerk more than a little jealous that the narrator has been to America feel like thinly drawn symbols for Cole’s narrator uses to pontificate on whatever subject he is discussing. This is a small novel, a minor work from a great talent with shades of what he would soon bring to his readers. 
Rating: 4/5

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