Sunday, January 6, 2013

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Say You're One of ThemSay You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Why I read it: One of the January selections for the Great African Reads Group, and because it included several countries I hadn't yet covered in my Around the World reading - Niger, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Benin

This book brought me to tears, multiple times. I actually had to put a little bit of distance in between finishing it and reviewing it. The author, Uwem Akpan, wrote these stories to draw attention to the children of Africa and the struggles they face. It is tempting to dismiss it as merely fiction, to reassure myself that people surely do not live this way, but I know too much of the reality to be able to do so. The stories themselves are fiction of course, but pull from very real events.

I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. Be prepared; these are heavy.

Story by story, may contain spoilers:

The Ex-Mas Feast - This takes place in a Nairobi shantytown, where a family tries to plan for holidays when they don't have money for food. Chemicals for sniffing are given as gifts instead. My younger sister went to Nairobi to visit with missionary friends of the family a few years back, and I was reminded of her photos.

Fattening for Gabon - A story of two children, who already lost their parents to AIDS (they don't seem to understand this), being prepared to be sold into slavery by their uncle. The way it is told, heavy on dialect and food description, almost serves to mask the horror. But then I would stop to realize what was going on, ugh. I kept thinking maybe they are going to be adopted! But no. This story is very long, more of a novella.

What Language is That? - Highlighting the turmoil created in communities by religious groups encouraging violence. Could you explain to a 6 year old why she can no longer see her best friend?

Luxurious Hearses - Another very long story, more of a novella, about people fleeing a violent city on a bus. The main character is trying to hide that he is Muslim because of tensions. I liked how everyone on the bus had to have an opinion about everything, it gave a good sense of the cultures involved and what was valued. It gets more and more violent as the story progresses, and yet I was still hoping for a better end!

My Parents' Bedroom - This is the story I wish I hadn't read. Horribly violent, horrifying, I just can't even recall it enough to summarize it. Ethnic cleansing is something I will never understand.

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