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Teju Cole’s – “Every Day is For the Thief”

The latest novel by Teju Cole is entitled “Every Day is For the Thief”. It is a novel that relates the story of Nigerian who left Lagos at a young age, was educated in the

The latest novel by Teju Cole is entitled “Every Day is For the Thief”. It is a novel that relates the story of Nigerian who left Lagos at a young age, was educated in the United States and becomes a physician. After a considerable interregnum, he decides to return to Lagos and attempts to salvage his Nigerian identity by traveling throughout the city and visiting his old haunts and re-energizing old friendships.

The book is very descriptive and colorful and the resulting portrait of contemporary Lagos as well as Nigerian culture and life is rich. Mr. Cole delves into the everyday routine of ordinary Nigerians especially Lagosians with considerable detail and explains the mechanics of a variety of things including what serves as a public transportation system as well as life without a steady flow of electrical power.

The visit proves ultimately unsatisfying for the narrator because so much time has passed, he is older and more cynical. Additionally, living in the States has raised his lifestyle to a point that he would ultimately never find life in Nigeria fulfilling or worthwhile.

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the considerable effort Mr. Cole went to in describing the life of a Nigerian, I ultimately found the book cynical, negative and depressing. From the opening page we are told about the cycle of corruption in the country. As he goes to the consulate in New York to retrieve his travel documents, he has to endure three return visits to pay various “fees” while standing next to signs imploring visitors to report corruption. From the opening point on we are constantly reminded that bribes and corruption are the oil that keep the mechanism of life for Nigerians lubricated.

The narrator also spends considerable time comparing cultural life in Lagos with that of Europe and the United States. He seems to find failure in each and every cultural institution that he explores and conjures his memories of visiting the same spots as a child. It is a self-defeating exercise and it makes me wonder if the intended audience of this updated version of his book needs to have their negative impressions of life in Nigeria as well as Africa affirmed.

Life in many places of the world is a struggle to make ends meet and to form some semblance of normalcy. People every day live without many of the advantages we have here. In some of those same places, justice and retribution are swift and direct. The values we have here cannot always be transplanted to other parts of the world. Mr. Cole and his fans should attempt to understand that progress is needed but ultimately it will take its own time to develop. Perhaps, the writer can find some ways to create opportunities to make this progress more efficient.

After a long career as a professional educator, ROBERT BERNSTEIN made the decision, a few years ago, to change direction and to focus on my work in journalism. This effort has afforded him many opportunities to expand his long term goals and as a result he now see the world through the lens of a “social entrepreneur”. He has worked with a variety news services and organizations as well as individuals seeking to maximize their media presence. His body of work encompasses the areas of development, governance, sustainability and technology.
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