With the idea of reading more short stories in mind as a goal for 2008, I was happy to see Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan come through the mail slot. Once I read the author’s bio, the book jumped to the top of my reading list. Akpan was born in Nigeria, studied in the US, became a Jesuit priest, and then got an MFA from the University of Michigan. He works as a Parish priest in Africa. (I attended a Jesuit school is the attraction.)
The stories contained in Say You’re One of Them are not the predictable morality tales that you might expect from an author whose day job is being a priest. These are dark tales of people on the edge of existence living in extreme conditions. Adding to the desperation, the stories are all told from the point of view of children. Many of the stories center around religious or tribal conflicts that have long ago abandoned rationale behavior. This story collection will keep you up nights.
The book opens with the story An Ex-Mas Feast, a harrowing tale of a family living in extreme poverty. The style of the story and the hard realities of the son reminded me of the excellent novel African Psycho by Alain Mabankou. (You can read An Ex-Mas Feast at The New Yorker.)
The stories in this collection are gripping and imediate. Even a usually ill-advised second person narrative completely sucks the reader in within pages. Two of the stories are novella length and are almost cruel in taking so long to reach their resolution. The stories take place throughout Africa, highlighting that the horrors portrayed are more widespread than we’d care to think. For those of from the US, there is even a handy map on the inside cover so that we can locate where the stories are taking place.
I highly recommend this amazing collection of stories.
- The book/author’s official web site