The one book you should read this year

Six years ago I stumbled on a book from a small Nigerian Press. I can’t remember where I found it. I think I grabbed the best-looking thing I could find in the bookshop at Entebbe airport before a long flight. My expectations were low. I certainly didn’t expect to find the best book I’d read in years.

It was a memoir. A young Nigerian doctor returns home after fifteen years in New York, and sees his native land through both native and foreign eyes. This is a terrific device for bridging the gap between an American reader and the life of Lagos. It’s also a feeling every émigré has shared–of suddenly realizing you’re a foreigner in your own land.

None of this sounds like the basis of a bestseller. And it wasn’t. But it was probably one of the most beautifully written books I could remember reading. And, as travel memoirs in Africa go, the most moving and least stereotypical. I remember thinking to myself: this guy should be famous.

It turns out, he now is. A few years later, Teju Cole would publish a debut novel, Open City, and The New Yorker (among others) would christen him one of the greatest writers of his generation. It’s now 2014, and a major press has decided to republish his Nigerian memoir, Every Day is for the Thief.

Needless to say, I can’t recommend a book more. Buy it here.

6 thoughts on “The one book you should read this year

  1. Great to read this. I stumbled upon this book too a while back. After reading it, I declared it (a personal declaration that is) the definitive book on Lagos. I grew up in Lagos, so reading the book was like reliving moments. It is a beautiful thing that it is being republished by Random House I think.

    The “small Nigerian press” you refer to is most likely Cassava Republic. They have gone on to become perhaps the best publishing company in West Africa.

    Once again, it feels great to read this. Thanks!

  2. Chris: If you liked Every Day is for the Thief you will like the female version Americanah by Adichie (if I got author’s name right.) Great stuff about hair….

  3. I loved “every day is for the thief” as well. Living in Ghana, as a foreigner/adopted native I could relate to many observations and marvel at how different Lagos also is from Accra. But on top of it all, it was a elegant, beautiful and excellent read.

  4. Any chance you could get a “literature and development” author series going at Columbia or CGD?

  5. Chris, thanks for introducing me to Teju Cole. Your strong recommendation got me to read open city, and half way through every day for the thief, I’m glad for this recommendation.