Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole is a novel which reads more like a diary or a memoir, (although without the bits you would normally snoop in someone else’s diary to find).
I chose to read this book because I have never read a story set in any part of Africa or with African characters. The only movie I’ve ever watched set in Africa is The Lion King. It was definitely time I expanded my reading list…
The story is told in the first person by an un-named narrator, a man who was born in Nigeria and grew up in the USA. At the start of the story the narrator is planning to return to Nigeria to visit family in Lagos.
The story begins with the narrator’s visit to the Nigerian consulate in the USA, which is where the corruption, which is the main theme of this story, starts. Although he doesn’t want to, the narrator pays a bribe in the form of a money order to expedite the granting of his passport. There is no mention of this special fee on the consulate’s web site and he does not receive a receipt for the money order. The narrator recognises that unless he pays this bribe, he will not be guaranteed his passport before he is ready to travel.
On arriving in Lagos he visits an internet café, where he watches young men creating and sending scam emails. These young men are known in Nigeria as ‘Yahoo Boys,’ and the crime a ‘491,’ after the Nigerian criminal code scam emails contravene. The narrator watches police and soldiers who is posted at the internet cafes to prevent these crimes, catching Yahoo Boys, then taking payment from them before releasing the criminal with a warning. (Who is the criminal though?)
The narrator’s disappointment with his country for having become a place where fraud, bribery, blackmail and theft are acceptable to society, is apparent on every page. Worse, the narrator believes there is no way of reversing the nation’s morals.
The narrator says surveys show Nigerians to be among the happiest people in the world and also the most religious, but he questions why they have “so little concern for the ethical life or human rights.” The narrator also touches briefly on Nigeria’s art having been stolen by the rest of the world and its people having been ravaged by slavery.
Teju Cole’s writing is clear and precise, easy to read and understand, but while the story reads quickly, the message in this story is more complex than it first appears. This is a sad story, filled with disillusionment and little hope for improvement.
The story’s title comes from a Yoruba proverb which is shown in full on the title page, “Every day is for the thief but one day is for the owner.” Reading this story, I’m not sure that the narrator (or the author) believe that the owner’s day will ever come.
Every Day is for the Thief also features black and white photos taken by the author.