Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Teju Cole's Every Day is for the Thief Resonates 10 Years On

Photo: Shayera Dark
“The window was one of many, the town was one. It was the only one, the one I left behind,” reads the epigraph in Teju Cole’s debut novel Every Day is for the Thief. Written like a travel diary, the story pieces together the unnamed narrator’s perception of Lagos after a long absence. A major character in the book, the city’s idiosyncratic traits are critiqued—and by extension those of Nigeria, too.

The novel opens in the Nigerian Consulate in New York, where the Nigerian-American narrator is applying for a passport. There, he quickly discovers that without the ‘expedition fee’ of fifty-five dollars passport processing takes four weeks instead of one as stated on the website. With his trip to Nigeria three weeks away, the narrator grudgingly pays the extra fee, a bribe, on the advice of another applicant.

Like Lagos, the consulate is a microcosm of Nigeria, a country notorious for corruption. And by registering the venality of consulate staff and the reluctant, if not, casual acceptance of graft by applicants, Cole captures the normalisation of corruption by the Nigerian psyche, even on foreign soil where it is uncommon and subtle. As the narrator observes on his arrival to Lagos: “For many Nigerians, the giving and receiving of bribes, tips, extortion money or alms—the categories are fluid—is not thought of in moral terms. It is seen either as a mild irritant or as an opportunity. It is a way of getting things done, neither more or less than what money is there for.” Read more here.