Teju Cole’s Open City, his second book, made some serious waves when it was published in 2011. It was a finalist for 2011’s National Book Critics Circle Award and it won the PEN/Hemingway in 2012. Though I haven’t yet read it, it remains near the top of my to-read list.
Recently, though, I came across a nice used paperback copy of his first novel, Every Day is for the Thief, at Readers Bookstore at Fort Mason in San Francisco, a particularly awesome bookshop, and I promptly tore through it in about a day and a half.
Originally published in 2007, it’s a slim little novel that is—dare I say—just about perfect. It’s the story of a young doctor who lives in New York, but who was born in raised in Nigeria, in Lagos, and who, after years of study and work in the US, returns home for the first time.
It reminded me of poetry in its sparing and meticulously precise economy of language. Cole wastes not a word, spills no ink frivolously, and seems, at every turn, to convey exactly what he means to convey, which, let’s be honest, is quite rare, even in good literature. And perhaps the novel’s greatest strength, and the real display of Cole’s prowess as a writer here, lies in the fact that, plot-wise, not much happens in the book, though it remains utterly riveting. It amounts to a number of small scenes, slice-of-life snippets from the perspective of a sentimental Nigerian returning home after a long absence, who is both fond and disparaging of his homeland. After each scene, though, I found myself marveling at its sharpness, its simple beauty, its meticulously-crafted near-perfection.
It’s damn good, and I’m now looking forward to Open City even more.