Thursday, July 9, 2009

Say You're One of Them - Uwem Akpan (Kindle)


I’m beginning to think I had some subconscious desire for a depressive state when I chose both Sashenka and this novel for two of my twelve selections for my TBR Reading Challenge. The continuation of my summer reading rampage finds me in desperate need of some lighter fare.

“Say You’re One of Them” is a collection of five short stories written by a Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest born in Nigeria. They are evidence of Akpan’s experiences, research and imagination that has traveled down the dark path of a continent torn apart by war and religious prejudice. To make the stories more harrowing, they are all told from the eyes of a child.

In “An Ex-Mas Feast”, an 8-year-old Kenyan boy struggles with the knowledge that his 12-year-old sister will put him through school with her earnings as a prostitute. This story takes place in Kenya.

In “Fattening for Gabon”, 10-year-old Kotchikpa and his little sister have been sent to live with their uncle because their parents are dying of AIDS. The uncle soon starts to receive money and a certain motorcycle for which there is much familial obsession and dreams of grandeur. It doesn’t take Kotchikpa long to figure out that he and his sister have been sold to human traffickers.

The shortest story, “What Language is That?”, describes two girls, BFF’s, that are torn apart because of religious differences, but bridge their physical separation with a innocent, visual secret language.

If the stories have not been troubling enough so far, then we are presented with “Luxurious Hearses”. Jubril, a 16-year old Muslim, must run for his life when the conflict between his people and the Christians in northern Nigeria reach devastating proportions. To escape, he must travel on a bus full of histrionic, psychotic, schizophrenic Christians, aka the Luxurious Bus.

Our last little ray of sunshine is “My Parent’s Bedroom”, where 9-year-old Monique and her toddler brother must witness an ethnic war between the Hutu and Tutsi occurring within the four walls of their Rwandan family home in the most horrible way imaginable.

I vaguely remember reading the reviews for this book, ranked as one of the top books of 2008 by EW, which stated there were glimmers of hope buried amongst the horror in the short stories. With the exception of perhaps “What Language is That?”, I saw very little hope. In fact, each story left me feeling hollow and shocked at the violence, disillusionment and fear experienced by each of the children in these tales. The writing is fabulous – it captures the voices, the dialects and the innocence of the children so perfectly. I, however, of the insulated, pedicured, excess world that I live in, found the stories eye-opening and uncomfortable. Yes, of course I saw Hotel Rwanda and I read the news, but never from the viewpoint of little kids. This is another good one to read when you need reality to give you a big kick in the dupa.

4 out of 5 stars

19 comments:

Melody said...

As good as this book may sound, I'm not sure if I'd want to read it though, but that's a great review from you!

violetcrush said...

I have this book in my TBR and in fact I even read the first story (10 pages) before quitting. I found it very depressing and I wasn't in a mood for depressing then. But I'll be going back to this book sometime later.

Beth F said...

Not being a short story fanatic to begin with, I think I'll pass on this.

BTW: DH is reading the other Sam Shepard collection I bought. He says the jury is still out, so don't rush to buy Motel Chronicles yet.

farmlanebooks said...

I think that is a common problem with books written about Africa - they all tend to be very depressing. I'm not a big fan of short stories either, so I'll give this one a miss.

Anna said...

Sounds like a heavy book. I'm always looking for interesting short stories, so I'll have to keep this one in mind. Great review!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Frances said...

"The continuation of my summer reading rampage finds me in desperate need of some lighter fare." I feel your pain. Have been avoiding Target so that I don't get tempted by the piles of mindless chick lit. I really need to find the fluff in my future. So I must take a pass here for fear pharmaceutical adjustments are in my future.

Jeane said...

I actually had this book on my pile for the TBR Challenge, too, and tried to read it just a few days ago. I could not. It was way too depressing. I just couldn't take it.

ds said...

Wow. You've picked some heavy stuff lately. Depressing, but necessary (how else to wake up the world?). It is a great review--the children's point of view would make it very interesting indeed. Thanks.

C. B. James said...

Short Stories!!! Any chance you might want to post a link to this post over at Short Story Sunday?

;-)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Melody - you need to be in the right mood for this one! (Thanks for the complement!)

Violet - I understand. Had I not sacrificed myself to the wolves and committed to this book for a challenge, I may have done the same thing...

Beth - Thanks for the head's up on the Motel Chronicles. Short stories ARE starting to grow on me though!

Jackie - I had hoped for the best on this one, based on the review I'd read. No dice. As far as short stories go, though, you aren't left unfulfilled at the end of each one. You definitely are ready to move on!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Anna - I'm a little behind on my short story expertise, which is why I picked this particular book. I'll continue to plug along.

Frances - haha! Well, I avoided the pharmaceutical adjustments by picking up Connie May Fowler as my next read - review coming tomorrow. I was quickly saved from a big malaise!

Jeane - Love your kitty picture! Like I said before, had I not made the committment to read this one, I may have dropped it too. Very serious stuff.

ds - I need a good slap on the butt once in awhile, and the last two books certainly did that. I've moved onto happier themes (battered women, WWII) since. Seriously. Anything feels uplifting now!

James - absolutely I will link in this Sunday. I've been waiting on a chance. Actually, I just finished a collection of scary short stories that I will post on in a week or two and will link those too!

mattviews said...

This does sound very appealing but it's not light. In the midst of summer I'm also leaning toward lighter reads and I sought out The Joy Luck Club out of random.

Dar said...

Great review Sandy. It does sound like a heavy book; not sure if I'd want to read it or not.

Simone said...

I've read the book. You're review is very good.

The book is an excellent piece of literature. It's riveting, stark, full of humor in some places and balanced. Because it is so well written, you can't help but be drawn in. That's what you want from a book.

It's a shame some people won't read it because the subject matter is perceived as depressing. Expand your literary horizons and broaden your experiences.

If you love literature, you'll love this book.

Simone said...

um, yeah. That should be "Your" not "You're."

Sandy Nawrot said...

Simone - you are absolutely right, this is something that could end up being considered a classic one day. The writing is beautiful. It's just not easy to get through it. I may have been able to better handle it had I not just finished another difficult one right before I started this one!

Iliana said...

I love the cover for this book. I know I've seen it before but actually didn't know much about it until your review. Oh dear, it sounds like one of those I have to prepare for before starting.

Literary Feline said...

I skimmed your review, Sandy, since I will be reading this one soon as part of my Short Story Saturday feature. I have heard the stories are haunting.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I've been enjoying short stories lately, but I'll save this one for when I am in the mood for something heavy.