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review 2016-01-20 00:00
Open City: A Novel
Open City: A Novel - Teju Cole I read this on the wave of the great Everyday is for the Thief.

At first, it seemed that Cole is the king of non-story fiction: there is no structured plot in sight. In Everyday is for the thief, it resulted in a great impression of Nigerians' psyche. However, Open City only showed me a closeted essay without clear conclusions. There is something about racism, prejudice and the inscrutable pain of living, but that is all I've got.

And the disconcerting revelation made in the second-to-last chapter really ruined it for me. As I write, I'm meditating about its meaning, and how the parable relates to that.

So I guess I wasn't ready to read it at all.
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review 2015-12-19 00:00
Every Day is for the Thief
Every Day is for the Thief - Teju Cole 1. This is not exactly fiction.

2. It's all about Nigeria.

3. It has a few over 100 pages. You can read it in a day, but I wouldn't recommend. This baby needs to be flavored, not just churned.

Religion, corruption, happiness. Why, if so religious, so little concern for the ethical life or human rights? Why, if so happy, such weariness and stifled suffering?

In my college days, I took Ethics lessons. The professor, a very interesting little man with an international PhD, told us about what was wrong with Brazil. Or why Brazil is so bad. This is a very common question, and every teacher, liberal worker, journalist or pretense intellectual in Brazil has an answer. It was the Portuguese, they said. Or the Catholic church. It is the elite. Capitalism. Socialism. All of those answers reeked of whatever political indoctrination disguised as knowledge they were fed at college. Or by the media. Every single one of them.

So I awaited with eagerness: what does this middle-class law professor with an international PhD could add? He introduced us to Hannah Arendt, and the notion that corruption exists in Brazil because Brazilians have little grasp on what “public” means. Or its differentiation from “private”. In the typical Brazilian mind, a public thing is not something that belongs to all, and to be cherished as it should be used by others, but a public thing is something that is yours for the taking. For you, your family, and friends. And the others could damn themselves. Hence corruption, nepotism, and “social skills” being more important, by a long shot, than merit and personal accomplishments.

I don’t know what Arendt (or my cute professor) would think of Nigeria.

But corruption, in the form of piracy or of graft, also means that most people remain on the margins. The systems that could lift the majority out of poverty are undercut at every turn. Precisely because everyone takes a shortcut, nothing works and, for this reason, the only way to get anything done is to take another shortcut. The advantage in these situations goes to the highest bidders, those individuals most willing to pay money or to test the limits of the law.

Although this is an analysis of the Nigerian culture, and a human recollection of why Nigerians are the way they are, it’s also an empathetic read to anyone living in a country riddled with corruption... like Brazil. Brazilians are stereotypically perceived as happy and celebrative, but it’s only a disguise for the extreme harsh life the usual Brazilian is stuck with. Low wages. Urban violence. The sense of being hostages to criminals. Crowds murdering criminals. The corrupt police. The corrupt public officers. Everything is there in the book, like it was written about us. We accompany a Nigerian coming back to his country after decades living abroad, and many of the situations he put himself there, I found myself in here, too.

But there is more to it than just corruption. Teju is not a proverbial anthropologist, wandering through the community with a finger resting on his chin and the detachment of a scholar. He mixes himself with Nigerian life. He suffers. He seeks comfort in art. And he gives us observational bites of a travel, pieces of story, as we were with him.

I won’t go into details here, as to not spoil it, but don’t expect a work of fiction. Not a dry non-fiction. Everyday is for thief falls happily in between, and the result is lean, smooth, honest and very interesting.

Hey, the photos are pretty nice too.
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review 2014-08-11 03:43
Open City: A Novel - Teju Cole

In “Open City”, Teju Cole attempts to play with our perspective by showing that America is a great distraction from the true essence of humanity: suffering. The inevitable end to this illusion is a death of historical perspective with dangerous consequences. How it’s dangerous exactly, I’m not entirely sure. Though Cole offers some beautiful insights into the human condition, it is ultimately a failure because he does not back up his conclusions with a well-structured plot, and his dull, flat characters cannot carry the weight of his themes.


As someone who enjoyed who enjoyed “Moby-Dick” and “To the Lighthouse,” I am very tolerant of weak plots so long as the author has something profound to say, which Cole clearly does. Unfortunately his story just rambles along and doesn’t provide a very thorough examination of suffering. There is hardly any conflict within the story that demonstrates how different ideas play out in the world. Occasionally one character may contradict the ideas of another, but this is hardly a conflict, instead Julius just casually dismisses one or the other.


  When Melville and Woolf wrote books lacking a strong plot, they filled their stories with three dimensional, complex characters that beautifully illustrated human themes through interactions with other characters. Instead, Cole presents us with flat characters who recount simple ideas already familiar to us without adding any new perspective. Some of this is likely due to our unreliable narrator, but if Cole wanted us to question Julius, he didn’t have to make the people populating his novel so monotonous.  


 Julius, our main character and narrator, is most disappointing of all. Initially Cole introduced him slowly and carefully without revealing the most noticeable aspects of human identity like gender, name, and ethnicity well into the first chapter. This lack of hyperawareness seemed to suggest there was more to our identity than these superficial factors, but as the novel continues, Julius become increasingly detached from his identity. Since Julius lacks the motivations and goals fundamental to all beings that drives them to action, he becomes another flat character whose mind I can’t wait to leave.


The major problem with “Open City” is that Cole doesn’t understand that truth is stranger than fiction. Instead he creates a novel more boring than reality as his characters and conversations are all too familiar to us without any of the strangeness embodied in all beings. Occasionally Cole will blend past with present to develop something truly strange and wonderful, but sometimes he goes on explaining how surreal it is, breaking the basic rule in film of show don’t tell. The best authors will have to draw on all their abilities to write a truly beautiful passage, but Cole occasionally ruins his passages by explaining how beautiful they are, which is a shame because his prose is much better than many contemporary authors.


It’s not all bad. Cole does show abilities in prose and technique that I have already alluded to. I honestly enjoyed and agreed with the message he was trying to get across, but without a well-structured plot and complex, three-dimensional characters to give it verisimilitude, Cole creates a poorly explored and ineffective message. 

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text 2014-03-30 04:51
New Book Releases To Check Out
The House at the End of Hope Street - Menna van Praag
The Cruelty - S. Bergstrom
Stay Where You Are And Then Leave - John Boyne,Oliver Jeffers
Byrd - Kim Church
Every Day Is for the Thief: Fiction - Teju Cole
Riding a Crocodile - Paul A Komesaroff
  • The House at the End of Hope Street: A Novel by Menna van Praag (March 25, 2014 by Penguin Books [Goodreads]
  • The Cruelty by S. Bergstrom (March 15, 2014 by JKSCommunications) [Goodreads]
  • Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne (March 25, 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)) [Goodreads]
  • Byrd by Kim Church (March 18, 2014 by Dzanc Books) [Goodreads]
  • Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole (March 25, 2014 by Random House) [Goodreads]
  • Riding a Crocodile by Paul A Komesaroff (March 11, 2014 by River Grove Books) [Goodreads]
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text 2014-03-16 04:15
Reading progress update: I've read 72%.
Every Day Is for the Thief: Fiction - Teju Cole

Doctors earn $500 a month!!! However, everything we pay for in the world is the same in Nigeria. Anywhere you go, as simple as getting gas, someone is getting over on you. I couldn't live like this. Oiling the palms of everyone around me just to get what I need, am paying for or have paid for. NUTS!!


****Scattered Thoughts****

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