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Posts from the ‘Teju Cole’ Category

The Knife’s Edge

In his new book Golden Apples of the Sun (Mack, 2021), Teju Cole’s photographs, which in the past have reflected the tensely energized vision of a global citizen, have become contained, muted, domestic. Their primary subject is now the kitchen. Instead of looking out across Berlin or Beirut or Brazzaville, we’re looking down at his dark counter tops and the burners of his gas stove, which is black, so that the backgrounds of the photographs are dark, somber, practically reflectionless. There are utensils, pots and pans, dishes, towels, a jigger, a creamer, glass and plastic storage containers, not much in the way of food, an apple, an egg, a lime, a boule, some lemons, half an onion, a sprig of thyme. The framing is tight, turning some objects into geometric shapes, cutting others off abruptly. This is not about cooking, it’s about post-cooking detritus.

The images themselves seem a bit buried somewhere within the matte printing on the matte paper selected by the designer Morgan Crowcroft-Brown. I find myself peering close to the page, looking for the edges of objects, looking for details that have fallen into the creamy blacks and lush blackish blues of Cole’s photographs. It is clear that Cole wanted these to be modest images. What he had in mind were Dutch seventeenth century still life paintings of fruits and vegetables and the tabletop paintings of Giorgio Morandi, many of whose works depict endless rearrangements of nearly monochrome jars and bottles.

But should we think of Cole’s photographs as domestic images? Domesticity implies something that relates to a home or a family or a person who performs menial tasks. These kitchen images seem inert. They depict a stasis, a frozen now. Rarely do we have any sense of what has happened the moment before the photograph was taken or what was likely to happen next. Interspersed between the kitchen photographs are full-page photographs that show hand-written recipes for dishes like puddings and marmalade, plus helpful instructions for cooking-related tasks, such as how “To Collar a Calves Head.” The recipes are printed on brown paper reminiscent of that which a butcher might use to wrap meat. Both the immaculate penmanship and the language of the recipes are obviously antiquated, and Cole tells us in his essay in the book that these pages are from an anonymous eighteenth-century cookbook from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Cole lives. Cole photographed them so that the recipes are legible, but are sometimes cropped, making them serve as a kind of wallpaper for the kitchen images. Some of the eighteenth-century Cambridge households from which this cookbook might have come would have had domestics, black kitchen help, maybe even slaves. Very suddenly the innocent question “Should we think of Cole’s photographs as domestic images?” becomes fraught. Now we are in the realm of history. Here’s Cole, from his essay:

I cannot now find the interview in which W.G. Sebald said that not only had he never been to Auschwitz, but that he would never wish to do so. You see everything there is to be seen—I seem to recall him saying—and then, what, they have a restaurant there, and you go and sit down to eat? But, in counterpoint: I think of those who experience an entire terrain as the site of atrocity. In the United States of America, for instance—especially for indigenous people and for Black people—there is no part of the terrain that does not reverberate with horror, torture, and the most perverse brutalities. The site of the massacre is not delimited. The map is equal to the territory and yet we must live. We still have to go in and sit down to eat.

In the upper corner of every page where there is a kitchen photograph there is a faint date stamp, like the kind you find on digital images. The dates begin SEPT 29 13:13 and progress chronologically through NOV 3 16:02. The year, Cole tells us in his essay, is 2020. Pandemic Year. George Floyd Year. Election Year. Thus the final photograph was taken on Election Day. Cole says he did not rearrange anything for his photographs but he surely he knew what he was doing when he photographed the edge of a knife on Election Day, 2020 for the final image in his book.

Some photography is about showing, the photographs in this book are about seeing, observing. Seeing is a democratic process. No two of us will concentrate on the same details, follow the same flight path around these rectangles, draw the same conclusions. For Cole, these photographs were part of a process, one with its own set of rules. Take photographs every day. Don’t arrange anything. Observe. Repeat.

The untitled essay that comes at the end of Golden Apples serves as a kind of running commentary on some of the things that Cole observed and remembered and pondered during the same time in which he took the kitchen and cookbook images. Photographing in his kitchen and reading the centuries-old recipes reminded him of the hunger he experienced as a child, the still life paintings of the French painter Chardin, the music of the Smashing Pumpkins, the poetry of Louise Glück, slavery, Zen, John Cage, Cargill and the salt trade, hunger strikes, Covid-19, the photographer Chris Killip (who had just died), Giorgio Morandi, J.M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello, voting, and much more. It’s a solid thirty-page block of writing that morphs from one subject to another the way that dreams often do.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

By William Butler Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

I have previously written about three of Teju Cole’s other books: Blind Spot (2017), Open City (2011), and Every Day Is for the Thief (2007).

Split Screen: Teju Cole’s “Blind Spot”

At such moments invisible and tangible become confused.
Yves Bonnefoy, The Arrière-pays.

An open book is naturally a split screen divided by the book’s gutter, although few books actually take full advantage of this. Teju Cole’s new book Blind Spot (Random House, 2017) manages to put each of some 160 or so double-page spreads into truly astonishing dialogues between text and image. Blind Spot balances Cole’s color photographs on the right hand side with texts that are generally very brief on the left. In the texts, which are titled according to the city where the photograph was taken, Cole recounts dreams, constructs compressed essays, and meditates on travel, photography, sight, religion, and art. Occasionally these texts serve as a commentary on the photograph across the page, but for the most part Cole makes the dialogue take place somewhere else, somewhere unexpected, somewhere, shall we say, off camera. Even in texts as brief as these, Cole shows once again his trademark mental restlessness, which matches the globe-hopping list of cities where he has photographed.

Many of Cole’s photographs, including some from Blind Spot, can be seen on his website and on his Instagram account. Cole is a superb photographer with a very assured eye and a coherent body of images. Although there are a number of fine landscape images in Blind Spot, Cole is really at his best as a street photographer, following in the great tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Leavitt, Saul Leiter, and Lee Friedlander. Nearly all of his photographs create visual mysteries that are the result of either the photographer’s precise point of view or the careful framing of the image. Not surprising for a writer, his images often suggest a narrative that lies just beyond our grasp. He’s fond of images that consist of partially blocked or obscured views and unexpected juxtapositions, images that essentially flatten the world and return us to a time before linear perspective was discovered. He sees what most of us overlook daily — the mundane, the worn, the discarded.

There is no surrender of beauty, only an effort to find beauty by going past the typical and arriving at the common. . . . What I love about Bali is what I love about São Paulo, Nairobi, Seoul, Reykjavik: the material evidence of human life, which goes on in spite of the world’s enmity. In this search, an intense attachment to the beautiful remains. The sun pours itself all over the world and the world’s things. Things are being built, or repaired, or broken. Things sit in the street, free of use. Things are on the verge of speech. Ladders rise, and angels invisibly ascend and descend.

The book’s title comes from a frightening medical emergency that Cole suffered in 2011, when he woke up blind in one eye, resulting in a surgery to repair perforations in the retina. “The photography changed after that. The looking changed.”

Teju Cole, New York City

Written photo captions tend to constrict the ways in which we interpret a photograph, just as photographs buried in a text are generally there to demonstrate what something looks like. When Cole’s paired texts and images are at their best, they expand the options for understanding both text and image, forming, in his words, “chimeras made of lexical foreparts and material hind parts.” Each half of this split screen forces us to interrogate the other half for the signs that might turn these two parallel paths into a crossroad.

Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by fate, at the same time I opened Blind Spot I was already reading The Arrière-pays (Seagull Books, 2013), an indescribable, elusive text filled with photographs and reproductions of works of art by the French poet and writer Yves Bonnefoy. The “arrière-pays” (which loosely means the “back country,” although this is not how Bonnefoy uses the term). Bonnefoy’s book might be loosely described as a meditation on the relationships between language, perception, imagination, and being. At various times Bonnefoy says that the “arrière-pays” is what might be found on the road not taken or what transpires when one moves from the “inward country of . . . reveries” to the world surrounding us or what differentiates “here” from “elsewhere.” Bonnefoy’s beautiful, puzzling book opens with the sentence “I have often experienced a feeling of anxiety, at crossroads.” And as I read on I found more than one paragraph like this one, which seems to relate closely to what transpires in the conversations between text and image in Teju Cole’s book.

So that is what I dream of, at these crossroads, or a little way beyond them—and I am haunted by everything that gives credence to the existence of this place, which is and remains other, and yet which suggests itself, with some insistence even. When a road climbs upwards, revealing, in the distance, other paths among the stones, and other villages; when the train travels into a narrow valley, at twilight, passing front of houses where a window happens to light up; when the boat comes in fairly close to the shoreline, where the sun has caught a distant windowpane . . . this very specific emotion takes hold of me—I feel I’m getting close, and something tells me to be on alert.

Below: Teju Cole, Capri



Teju Cole’s Brussels


In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and as police turn their attention to Brussels – especially its Molenbeek neighborhood – I couldn’t help but recall a long and prescient section in Teju Cole’s novel Open City (Random House), which I wrote about when it was published in 2011. For more than fifty pages (one-fifth of the book), Julius, the half-Nigerian, half-German narrator, lingers in Brussels, ostensibly searching for more information about his oma, his grandmother, who had moved there many years earlier.  But most of the time he loiters, walks the city, hangs around the predominantly immigrant neighborhoods, and visits an Internet cafe to keep up on emails and to make telephone calls. Julius is surprised at the extent to which “Islam, in its conservative form, was on constant view” in Brussels, even more so than back home in New York City. Julius enjoys Brussels’ vibrant, diverse population, but also is aware that there have been a number of ugly incidents, hate crimes against Africans and Muslims. During his repeated visits to the Internet cafe, he becomes friendly with Farouq, a Moroccan who seems to run the place. Over conversations that begin casually but quickly turn up in intensity, the two talk about their backgrounds, literature, and politics.  They discuss Sharia law, Israel and the Palestine situation, Hamas and Hezbollah, the Belgian literary theorist Paul De Man, and the Moroccan writers Mohamed Choukri and Tahar Ben Jelloun. Julius eventually learns that Farouq had nearly completed his M.A. in critical theory (he had once dreamt of being the next Edward Said), but his thesis committee accused him of plagiarism and Farouq quit school angrily. “I lost all my illusions about Europe.”

Farouq’s eyes shone. The wound ran deep. How many would-be radicals, just like him, had been formed on just such a slight? …There was something powerful about him, a seething intelligence, something that wanted to believe itself indomitable. But he was one of the thwarted ones.

The issue that Julius faces at every stage in the novel is that others try to co-opt or define his identity. Africans claim his heritage (even though he is half German), whites see him as black, African Americans call him brother, Islamists try to radicalize him. Julius’s answer is to stay neutral, aloof, above limiting definitions. But Farouq, a man “in the grip of rage and rhetoric,” simultaneously fascinates and repulses him.

A cancerous violence had eaten into every political idea, had taken over the ideas themselves, and for so many, all that mattered was the willingness to do something.  Action led to action, free of any moorings, and the way to be someone, the way to catch the attention of the young and recruit them to one’s cause, was to be enraged.  It seemed as if the only way this lure of violence could be avoided was by having no causes, by being magnificently isolated from all loyalties.  But was that not an ethical lapse graver than rage itself?

After this final, revelatory conversation, Julius retreats from Farouq and soon departs Brussels, solitary once again.



Vertiginous Links for February

At the University of East Anglia’s #NewWriting website, former Sebald student Luke Williams has posted his article A Watch on Each Wrist: Twelve Seminars with W.G. Sebald, which originally appeared in the anthology Saturn’s Moons: W.G. Sebald – A Handbook.  Williams’ vivid recollections of Sebald, the professor, provide wonderful and insightful reading. His essay gets its title from the fact that he would observe Sebald apparently wearing two wrist watches in class.  “Why two watches? Why one digital and one analogue? Why was the analogue watch turned face down? I didn’t know.”  The answer, which I found quite quite surprising, is revealed at #NewWriting in the comments section.  So, click here to make your way over there and read Williams’ piece.

At the always-worth-reading Los Angeles Review of Books there is an essay called Imperfect Strollers: Teju Cole, Ben Lerner, and W.G. Sebald, and the Alienated Cosmopolitan by Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu. I’ve written about both Lerner and Cole.

What ultimately drives Sebald’s narrator is not doubt, but desire: to believe in a shadow world; to find evidence of it in the wondrous impossibilities of the natural world; to tell stories of metamorphosis, and therefore to imagine the indestructibility of soul, being, or spirit. Through these desires, we escape the mourning that we each have equally inherited. Thus, unlike Cole and Lerner, Sebald does choose a position from where his narrator speaks. In grief yet also in wonder, he invites us to observe alongside him. What certainties arise from his observations? The history of our world, for Sebald, is like a thread of a thousand yards woven by silkworm. Our recent past has broken it irrevocably.

Melilah 2 front copy

Melilah: Manchester Journal of Jewish Studies 2012 Supplement 2 is devoted to Memory, Traces and the Holocaust in the Writings of W.G. Sebald, edited by Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Janet Wolff.  (Yes, the official title given at the website and on the magazine title page doesn’t match the title shown on the sample cover.)  At Melilah’s website, the entire issue can be downloaded as a PDF for free. Here’s the list of contents:

  • Memory, Traces and the Holocaust in the Writings of W.G. Sebald by Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Janet Wolff
  • ‘And So They Are Ever Returning to Us, the Dead:The Presence of the Dead in W.G. Sebald by Carole Angier
  • Kindertransport, Camps and the Holocaust in Austerlitz by Jean-Marc Dreyfus
  • The Peripatetic Paragraph:Walking (and Walking) with W.G. Sebald by Monica B. Pearl
  • I Couldn’t Imagine Any World Outside Wales: The Place of Wales and Welsh Calvinist Methodism in Sebald’s European Story by Jeremy Gregory
  • Utter Blackness: Figuring Sebald’s Manchester by John Sears
  • Max Ferber and the Persistence of Pre-Memory in Mancunian Exile by Janet Wolff
  • The Uses of Images: W.G. Sebald & T.J. Clark by Helen Hills
  • Novel Crime, Hunting and Investigation of the Trace in Sebald’s Prose by Muriel Pic
  • Notes on Contributors

Finally, to continue the Manchester theme, I’m going to make a link to something I wrote in 2011.  I was invited to submit an essay to the French magazine Ligeia: Dossiers Sur L’Art for an issue devoted to “Ruines, Photo & Histoire.”  My essay The Silent Catastrophe: Sebald’s Manchester, was published as La Catastrophe Muette, translated by Zaha Redman.  I’m putting the previously unpublished English version up on Vertigo here.

Vertiginous Links for the New Year

Five Dials #26 is focused on German writing, with a number of new short stories by young German writers, plus three essays on W.G. Sebald: Uwe Schutte’s “Teaching by Example,” Amanda Hopkinson’s “A History of Memory or a Memory of History?,” and Anthea Bell’s “A Translator’s View.”  These essays are three of the five originally commissioned and aired by BBC radio one year ago.  (The two essays not reprinted here are those of Christopher Bigsby and Georges Szirtes.)

Helen Finch has added her thoughts to the discussion about the recent BBC radio dramatization of Austerlitz in a blog post wonderfully called “Sebald was more interesting than the husband: Austerlitz and l’effet du réel.”   Finch makes the case that we should be judging the radio drama on whether or not it contains “the emotional truth” of the original book.

If Michael Butt tried to present the emotional truth of Austerlitz, as he felt it, in his radio drama, who is to say that his classic BBC drama version, complete with slamming doors and tearjerking music, does not represent that important affective aspect of Sebald’s work which might otherwise be lost behind his complex irony and academic erudition? Or is it the case that if we allow ourselves to be bewitched by Sebald’s artistry into thinking that his work is just a reproduction of the real, nothing more and nothing less, we have consigned ourselves to the realm of kitsch that is the death of art?

Over at The White Review is a nice piece by Will Stone called “Oradour-sur-Glane: Reflections on the Culture of Memorial in Europe” that speaks to some of Sebald’s preoccupations in Austerlitz with Holocaust sites, architecture, and memorials.

Entering Oradour and obeying bold signs to the memorial ruins, I was surprised to find myself in a vast car park, a limitless expanse of tarmac, more suited one would think to a sports complex or shopping mall. There on the sleek asphalt of the car park I observed luxury coaches with their tinted glass and climate controlled interiors spill their chattering cargoes, just as they will now in the newly constructed ‘reception area’ at Auschwitz I in Poland. Cars of suntanned visitors parked obediently between the freshly painted lines, disembarked and moved off all in the same direction, as if drawn by some unspecified magnetic source towards the giant modern bunker of a building that sat in a kind of man-made hollow. I realised as I followed them down the smart new concrete steps to the lower level that this was a relatively new visitors centre, inaugurated in 1999 by President Chirac, a largely superfluous building, the new scourge of every memorial site in Europe, whether merely ruins or formal cemetery. For today it is considered not quite enough to have solely the memorial itself before which to contemplate man’s destructive capability, the intricacies of murderous folly and the resulting nerve straining conclusion. Again and again some shadowy authority slips in between the individual and their private purpose and imposes an artificial construction in their path, which they have to wade through, straddle or circumnavigate before they can get back to the path they thought they were on.

Place in the Country

And finally, among the books we can look forward to in 2013 is Jo Catling’s translation of Sebald’s important book A Place in the Country (originally Logis in einem Landhaus, by WG Sebald.  According to The Guardian, the book is due to be released in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin May 2, but Amazon doesn’t have the US edition coming out from Random House until January 2014.  It looks as if Random House is going to use the same cover as the German edition, which is a beautiful watercolor by the Swiss writer Gottfried Keller, who is the subject of one of the biographic essays in this.  The only place I can currently find an image of a possible Hamish Hamilton cover is over at the New Books in German website, which shows something entirely different for the UK edition.

Happy 2013!

Ghost History – Teju Cole’s Open City

It feels premature to say that Teju Cole’s Open City (Random House, 2011) is a profound novel, but it may just be.  Infused with ideas, politics, history, literature and music (especially Mahler), Open City is intelligent, elegiac, beautifully written, and ambitious.  Cole is a keen and astute observer of the complex concoction that makes up contemporary life and he slides easily between the micro and the macro.   With the theme of immigration at its core, Open City tackles such topics as the politics of fearful post 9/11 America, radical Islam, post-colonial Africa, and a Europe that is getting crushed between its past and its future.

Julius, an immigrant from Nigeria who is of mixed German and Nigerian parentage, is in New York studying to become a psychiatrist.  He is something of a loner with no apparent close friends, although people naturally open up to him, talk to him, tell him their story.  Julius’ first-person narrative is written in hauntingly simple, almost documentary prose.  It’s strength is the clarity with which it slowly, effortlessly exposes Julius’ mind to us in a way that becomes startlingly intimate before we even realize it.  Perhaps Cole’s greatest success in Open City is his creation of Julius, who is one of the most vulnerable characters I can remember.

In his free time, Julius wanders the city by foot and by subway, describing what he sees and hears and thinks, giving us, among other gifts, a remarkable panoramic image of New York City and its history.  Julius clearly loves his adopted city but he is dedicated to scraping below the veneer for the ghosts of New York’s shameful past.  Like the wanderings of W.G. Sebald, Cole’s perambulations move through time as well as space.  In one typical scene, Julius is in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, where “the Tetris-like line of buildings sat in the still afternoon air.”  While women watch their children enjoy the playground there, Julius recounts the history of the slave trade that operated out of the city’s ports, bringing riches to the city’s bankers and merchants even well after slave trading became unlawful.

Although it takes place predominantly in New York, Open City also follows Julius on an extended trip to Brussels during a half-hearted attempt to locate his maternal grandmother.  And it is there – not in New York – that Cole uses the phrase “open city.”

…there had been no firebombing of Bruges, or Ghent, or Brussels.  Surrender, of course, played a role in this form of survival, as did negotiation with invading powers.  Had Brussels’s rulers not opted to declare it an open city and thereby exempt it from bombardment during the Second World War, it might have been reduced to rubble.

An open city, then, is both guilty and saved.  Or perhaps it must be guilty in order to be saved.  Julius never makes it clear if he thinks Brussels’s decision was an act of shame or of realpolitik.  (Perhaps it was both.)   Open City deals with heady contemporary issues and throughout Julius is confronted with people who want to pigeonhole his identity and who want to recruit him to their vision or their cause.  Africans claim his identity and heritage (even though he is half German), African Americans call him brother, Islamists try to radicalize him, but almost uniformly Julius wants no part of causes or labels.

The Buddhas smiled at the scene with familiar serenity, and all the smiles seemed to be one smile, that of those who had stepped beyond human worries, the archaic smile that also played on the lips on the funeral steles of Greek kouroi, smiles that portended not pleasure but rather total detachment.

Nevertheless, on at least one occasion, Julius wonders if his intense desire to maintain neutrality isn’t simply a mask for indecision.

It was a cause, and I was distrustful of causes, but it was also a choice, and I found my admiration for decisive choice increasing, because I was so essentially indecisive myself.

And elsewhere, at what seems like the crucial point toward which the entire novel has been headed:

A cancerous violence had eaten into every political idea, had taken over the ideas themselves, and for so many, all that mattered was the willingness to do something.  Action led to action, free of any moorings, and the way to be someone, the way to catch the attention of the young and recruit them to one’s cause, was to be enraged.  It seemed as if the only way this lure of violence could be avoided was by having no causes, by being magnificently isolated from all loyalties.  But was that not an ethical lapse graver than rage itself?

Reviewers, along with one of the book’s blurb writers, Anthony Doerr, have been mentioning Teju Cole in the same sentence with W.G. Sebald (among other writers), and there are certainly many points that will bear comparison.  But make no mistake about it, Cole is a strong new and independent voice and he is making his own determined way as a writer.

In January 2008, I wrote about his Cole’s first novel Every Day Is for the Thief, which was published in Nigeria.  During a return visit to his homeland, the narrator begins to nurture his desire to be a writer.  I wrote then:

In an internet cafe the narrator discovers the world of the “419 yahoo yahoos” (named after the section of the criminal code they violate), the young men whose endless email scams clog the in-boxes of computers around the globe.  Horrified, yet fascinated, he begins to glimpse the creativity, hope, and persistence that is spawned by Nigeria’s desperation. The narrator, who has aspirations to be a writer, slowly realizes that there is a “wealth of stories available here” and no one to tell them. Like his literary heroes Michael Ondaatje, Vikram Seth, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he muses on the possibility of telling those stories himself.

And now he has done just that.

The Irrational Ecstasy of Arrival

Teju Cole Every Day

Several readers of Vertigo have been kind enough to tell me about books that I missed when I did a listing of novels from 2007 that have embedded photographs in the text. As I track down and read them, I’ll post something whenever a book strikes me as especially noteworthy. I just finished Every Day Is for the Thief, a deceptively modest novel by Teju Cole. Like so many books these days, its unnamed narrator might or might not be very much like the real author, who is described as “a writer and photographer currently based in New York.” The narrator returns from New York to a city that might or might not be Lagos, Nigeria (I’ve never been there) to visit relatives and friends. But his ecstasy at returning home is quickly destroyed by pervasive violence and corruption, and, before long, the narrator finds himself culturally marooned. His family fears he has been “softened” by his years in America, the vendors in the markets mistake his accent for an out-of-towner, and even he wonders how much of this he can really endure. He is thwarted at every attempt to find evidence of serious culture in Lagos (surely his visit to the National Museum must be the most pathetic description of a museum in literature). Hoping to find novels by young Nigerians and books about Nigeria’s history, he visits a major bookstore that he remembers from his youth, only to be disappointed once again.

Why is history uncontested here? There is no sight of that dispute over words, that battle over versions of stories that marks the creative inner life of a society. Where are the contradictory voices? I step out of the shop into the midday glare. All around me the unaware forest of flickering faces is visible. The area boys are still hard at work. The past is not even past.

In an internet cafe the narrator discovers the world of the “419 yahoo yahoos” (named after the section of the criminal code they violate), the young men whose endless email scams clog the in-boxes of computers around the globe. Horrified, yet fascinated, he begins to glimpse the creativity, hope, and persistence that is spawned by Nigeria’s desperation. The narrator, who has aspirations to be a writer, slowly realizes that there is a “wealth of stories available here” and no one to tell them. Like his literary heroes Michael Ondaatje, Vikram Seth, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he muses on the possibility of telling those stories himself. With Every Day Is for the Thief, it seems to me that Cole extends to a new generation the great tradition of Nigerian writers that began in the 1950s with Amos Tutuola and, more to the point in Cole’s case, Chinua Achebe. Like W.G. Sebald, Cole has inserted photographs in his text: small, enigmatic black-and-white images that he has chosen wisely. They look like they would be fantastic enlarged and hung on a gallery wall, but for the most part they work equally well small, giving a sense of things seen from the corner of one’s eye.


Every Day Is for the Thief (Abuja, Nigeria: Cassava Republic Press, 2007).