Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole
First published in 2007, Teju Cole’s novella is now available for the first time outside of Nigeria. It’s difficult to view this work without considering his brilliant debut novel, Open City, which drew comparisons to the work of W.G. Sebald. While Every Day Is for the Thief could easily draw similar comparisons, the greatest pleasure to be found in this slim tome is Cole’s exquisitely honest portrayal of internal thought.
The plot is straightforward: an unnamed young man living in New York returns to his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. What makes the work feel essential then is not the story itself, but our narrator’s evolving – sometimes bemused – thoughts as he navigates this return, frequently brushing with corruption. In an internet cafe, surrounded by ‘Yahoos’, the authors of scam emails that are sent around the globe, the narrator comes to the conclusion: ‘These are such enterprising samples of narrative fiction that I realize that I am home in a different sense: Lagos is a city of Scheherazades. The stories unfold in ever more fanciful iterations and, as in the myth, those who tell the best stories are richly rewarded.’
Cole perfectly captures the conflicted emotions the narrator holds for his hometown, and though the strange sensation of returning home is not new ground, Cole’s interpretation feels original and powerful – there is a horrific account of the punishment of a young thief that I’m unlikely to forget. There has been some question as to how closely this story is drawn from Cole’s own experiences, but this question is rendered insignificant; regardless of the framework, this is a work that feels entirely true.
Chris Somerville works for the online team at Readings.