Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

Born on a Tuesday

by Elnathan John

From a two-time Caine Prize finalist and Nigerian novelist, an exceptional coming-of-age story about a Muslim boy in remote Nigeria and an intimate look at the way young men seek purpose in a world ripped apart by political and religious violence.

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date May 03, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2482-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

Trained as a lawyer and coming to prominence as a cultural commentator and satirist, Elnathan John is a dynamic young voice from Nigeria. Born on a Tuesday is his stirring, starkly rendered first novel, about an intelligent young boy struggling to find his place in a society that is fracturing along extreme religious and political lines.

In the far reaches of northwestern Nigeria, Dantala lives among a gang of street boys who sleep under a kuka tree. During the election, the boys are paid by the Small Party to cause trouble. When their attempt to burn down the opposition’s local headquarters ends in disaster, Dantala must run for his life, leaving his best friend behind. He makes his way to a mosque that provides him with food, shelter, and guidance. With his quick aptitude and modest nature, Dantala becomes a favored apprentice to the mosque’s benevolent sheikh. But before long, he is faced with a terrible conflict of loyalties. His mother is dying back in his native village, his brothers have joined a rival sect, and one of the sheikh’s closest advisers begins to raise his own radical movement. As bloodshed erupts in the city around him, Dantala must decide what kind of Muslim—and what kind of man—he wants to be.

Told in Dantala’s naive, searching voice, this astonishing debut explores the ways in which young men are seduced by religious fundamentalism and violence, and how friendship can prove to be the strongest bond of all.


“Working in the tradition of Achebe, Elnathan John has penned a coming-of-age novel worthy of Twain. At times tragic, at times humorous, Born on a Tuesday is the story of those who find the courage to transcend violence even when born to its confines.” —Elliot Ackerman, author of Green on Blue

“[John] has produced a thoughtful, nuanced first novel, employing a style that is as unadorned as it is unflinching. This young lawyer, who has twice been a finalist for the Caine Prize for African Writing, may be brash, but he is also capable of depth and subtlety. His restraint in handling difficult material is just one of his many gifts . . . Born on a Tuesday brings home the reality of what is happening in northern Nigeria with a power the news reports of Boko Haram’s atrocities can’t adequately project. Elnathan John is a writer to watch.” —Fiammetta Rocco, New York Times Book Review

“A nuanced first novel illuminates the rise of radical Islam in northern Nigeria.” —New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

“[An] impressive debut . . . I was carried along by the endearing voice of the young, sensitive narrator, his instinctive goodness and intelligence in making sense and finding beauty in the brutality, poverty, and oppression surrounding him. The novel manages to pull off two aims at the same time—giving the reader a sophisticated understanding of contemporary Nigerian politics and the pleasure of a tender and classy coming of age story.” —Leila Aboulela, Millions, A Year in Reading

“This sweeping debut novel by Caine Prize finalist John is poignant and compelling . . . Told through a blend of first-person narration and diary pages, John skillfully employs Dantala’s probing voice to pose crucial questions and explore collisions between modernity and tradition, Arabic and English, rhetoric and action . . . [Dantala] wrestles with his identity, sexuality, morality, and faith, while struggling to navigate violent clashes that threaten to destroy all he knows and loves. John has written a stunning, important coming-of-age story.” —Publishers Weekly (boxed and starred review)

“Nigerian lit is experiencing a renaissance right now, with a young generation of writers leading the way. Names like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chigozie Obioma, and Chinelo Okparanta are critically acclaimed . . . Born on a Tuesday brings a journalist’s eye to jihadi extremism’s insidious creep into a place. Presenting a wide spectrum of religious interpretation and adherence, John’s portrayal of northwestern Nigeria is both subtle and precise. Add Elnathan John to that list.” —Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Dantala’s experience is a window onto the realities of life in northern Nigeria, which has witnessed a brutal campaign of terror at the hands of the Islamist group Boko Haram. But it’s also a look at first love, friendship and family.” —Guardian (UK)

“A Nigerian bildungsroman featuring Dantala, a street kid thrust calamitously into the arms of a gentle sheikh, who thereafter faces Islamic extremism and the cruelty of his own country.” —O, The Oprah Magazine, “10 Titles to Pick Up Now”

“A Nigerian boy struggles to survive in a violent, disintegrating world. Like the most famous coming-of-age-in-hell story of all, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, Nigerian lawyer and political commentator John’s debut novel makes an old nightmare new by placing a bright, articulate, curious, and endearing young narrator in the midst of it . . . An action-packed, heartbreaking, and eye-opening debut from a great new talent.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[An] insightful debut novel about religious extremism in Nigeria . . . John writes with an understated elegance and we discover humour and wisdom in the most unexpected of places . . . The Igbo people have a saying about the little piece of dry meat that fills the mouth. John’s book is that meat: a relatively short novel with an extraordinary density, and we, his readers, are grateful.” —Guardian (UK)

“This debut novel by a Nigerian author couldn’t be more timely, or powerful . . . Taken in by the imam at a local mosque, Dantala finds himself in the midst of the terrible sectarian violence of his country.” —Tom Beer, Newsday

“In Bayan Layi, Nigeria, Dantala rejects the fluid rules and casual violence of his school life and runs away. He ends up living in a Salafi mosque, embracing the teachings of Sheikh Jamal. As Dantala begins to fall in love with Sheikh’s daughter, Aisha, Sheikh is struggling to deal with the growing jihadi extremism in his own ranks.” —Dan Dalton, Buzzfeed, “31 Brilliant Books That You Really Need to Read this Spring”

Born on a Tuesday . . . is an engagement with one of the most vexing questions of this or any other time: Why is religion a source of moral guidance and understanding for billions of people, and also the impetus for ISIS-type acts of violence that would seem to have no justification under any sane moral system? . . . His story of a young Muslim man witnessing the rise of jihadism in northern Nigeria is an honest reckoning with the problem, and one with implications beyond its particular setting and religious context.” —Armin Rosen, Tablet

“Wrenching . . . this is one heck of a debut novel, and we are confident you will be moved.” —Elizabeth Rowe, Bookish, “Spring 2016 Fiction Preview”

“I was completely pulled into Dantala’s world and was rooting for him immediately. This novel explained to me how simple it is for good, well intentioned people to be pulled into an extremist world. How easy it is for those of us from a stable country to judge young men from other nations who are lured into following leaders simply for the promise of a full belly!” —Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

“[Born on a Tuesday] explores brotherhood, religious fundamentalism and loss against one of the most turbulent periods in contemporary Northern Nigeria . . . [from] a critically acclaimed writer whose prose is lined with incredulous satire and a believable imagery that ensures that the reader is engaged from and sucked into the book with such power that you would hardly want to drop the book till the end.” —Afridiaspora, “Most Anticipated Books of 2016”

“With brave, unflinching candor expressed through spare, unadorned prose, Elnathan John considers the rise of Islamic extremism in Nigeria as experienced by one young man. Anyone seeking to peer beyond the media’s portrayals of Boko Haram must read this book, not because it offers a hopeful account but because it offers a human one.” —Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go

“Elnathan John’s debut coming of age novel is a striking and unnervingly assured depiction of a complex and tumultuous world. John’s writing is controlled and lucid, full of compassion yet fiercely unerring.” —Colin Barrett, author of Young Skins

“Elnathan John’s beautifully written novel is a moving and deeply felt debut from a writer of prodigious talent.” —Petina Gappah, author of The Book of Memory

“I had no clue about the situation of Muslims in Nigeria until I read Elnathan John’s recent Born on a Tuesday, a coming-of-age story set inside a nightmare.” —Marion Winik, SFGate

“Troubling but beautiful.” —Book Riot

“This isn’t an easy book to read but it is a book that must be read and it hasn’t been since Chris Cleave’s Little Bee that I have felt so raw, eyes opened and uncomfortable with the truth staring me straight in the eyes from a novel. While this may be a work of fiction, it is happening now and feels so real and such an important and vital piece of writing of stories that need to be heard.” —Jessica Sweedler DeHart, BookPeople of Moscow, Idaho

“Elnathan John delves into the minutiae, the small beginnings of larger realities confronting our world today. This is the Northern Nigerian narrative we have been waiting for. It will stand as a testimony to these times.” —Molara Wood, journalist, critic, and author of Indigo

“Working in the tradition of Achebe, Elnathan John has penned a coming of age novel worthy of Twain. At times tragic, at times humorous, Born on a Tuesday is the story of those who find the courage to transcend violence even when born to its confines.” —Elliot Ackerman, author of Green on Blue

“Mesmerizing . . . [Dantala’s] journey from a lost boy to a position of remarkable authority in his mosque in Sokoto, Nigeria is powerfully moving and rich in period-specific detail . . . This compelling debut novel, set during the time of Boko Haram uprising, is at once frightening and horrific yet also authentic and compassionate. Masterful.” —Jenny Lyons, The Vermont Bookshop

Born on a Tuesday is the riveting story of a Muslim Nigerian boy coming of age in a turbulent world that few of us can imagine. Weaving everyday life, observations, religion, and politics together with a fresh, compelling voice and powerful writing, Born on a Tuesday will resonate with book clubs and readers alike.” —Rebekah Hendrian, Book Nook & Java Shop, Montague, MI

“This powerful and gut-wrenching book is an unflinching look at the brutality wrought on the life of innocents by those vying for even small amounts of power.” —Anmiryam Budner, Main Point Books, Bryn Mawr, PA

“Mesmerizing . . . This compelling debut novel, set during the time of the Boko Haram uprising, is at once frightening and horrific yet also authentic and compassionate. Masterful.” —Jenny Lyons, The Vermont Bookshop, Burlington

“Elnathan John is something of a celebrity renegade in the African literary scene. He rules the waves on social media, this eccentric and eclectic Twitter Overlord who sits perched on an imaginary throne, dispensing carefully crafted snarky but profound tweets that throb and seethe with controlled rage and truth . . . He is easily one of the most important writers to come out of Africa in the 21st century . . . I was taken by this little book that took me places in Nigeria and in the heart that I did not know existed . . . Born on a Tuesday is not poverty porn, but a serious exploration and analysis of a very important part of Nigeria . . . An important book . . . immensely readable with beautiful unpretentious prose that keeps you wondering what will happen next.” —Ikhide (Nigeria)


A finalist for the Nigeria Prize for Literature
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice (7/10)
Winner of the Prix Les Afriques
An Amazon Best Book of the Month in Literature & Fiction
An Indies Introduce selection
Longlisted for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature


At first we make a distinction between shops belonging to Big Party people and those belonging to Small Party people, but as we become thirsty and hungry, we just break into any shop we see.

As the crowd moves beyond Bayan Layi, they are stopped by the sound of gunfire ahead. I am still far behind taking a piss and I see the crowd running back. Two police vans are heading this way. As they get closer the policemen get out and start firing into the crowd. As I see the first person go down, I turn and run. I look back for Banda. He is not running. He is bent over, coughing, holding his chest. I stop.

“Banda, get up!” I scream, crouching behind a low fence.

Everyone is running past him and the police keep shooting. He tries, runs feebly and stops again. They are getting closer—Banda has to get up now. I want to run; I want to hope his amulets will work. But I linger a bit. He gets up again and starts to run.

Then he falls flat on his face like someone hit him from behind. He is not moving. I run. I cut through the open mosque avoiding the narrow, straight road. I run through the maize farm. There are boys hiding there. I do not stop. I run past the kuka tree. I will not stop even when I can no longer hear the guns. Until I get to the river and across the farms, far, far away from Bayan Layi.