This was actually my second time reading this book. I read it before a few years ago and decided to read it again to do a review. Enjoy!
Title: Say You’re One of Them
Author: Uwem Akpan
Synopsis: “Each story in this jubilantly acclaimed collection pays testament to the wisdom and resilience of children, even in the face of the most agonizing circumstances.
A family living in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya scurries to find gifts of any kind for the impending Christmas holiday. A Rwandan girl relates her family’s struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy amid unspeakable acts. A young brother and sister cope with their uncle’s attempt to sell them into slavery. Aboard a bus filled with refugees—a microcosm of today’s Africa—a Muslim boy summons his faith to bear a treacherous ride across Nigeria. Through the eyes of childhood friends the emotional toll of religious conflict in Ethiopia becomes viscerally clear.
Uwem Akpan’s debut signals the arrival of a breathtakingly talented writer who gives a matter-of-fact reality to the most extreme circumstances in stories that are nothing short of transcendent.”
Say You’re One of Them, by Uwem Akpan, is not just a book, it’s a story. It is a story of a forgotten Christmas; it is a story of siblings; it is a story of a young friendship; it is a story of a journey; it is a story of murder. Comprised of five different short stories, you follow the lives of numerous different characters throughout different countries of Africa as only one thing is sought after: survival.
In the story, An Ex-mas Feast, a young Kenyan boy relates his family’s troubles and tries to bring them all together for Christmas. As his family is divided by poverty, resentment, and his oldest twelve year old sister’s profession, you experience the heartbreak during a time which is supposed to be filled with joy, love, and giving. A non-traditional Christmas story, An Ex-mas Feast captures one Kenyan family’s difficult times during the holidays.
We have heard about children being sold into slavery in distant countries, yet we do not want to believe it happens. In Fattening for Gabon, you read about the horrors of child slavery as a ten year old boy relates his uncle’s attempt to sell him and his sister. Almost forgetting that you’re reading a work of fiction, this tale of two siblings, and their ultimate pursuit of escape, brings into light what in reality is still horribly happening.
A childhood friendship is a hard bond to break, but in the tale, What Language is That?, the story of two young girls’ friendship is torn apart during a religious conflict in Ethiopia. Told in second-person, one of the rarest forms of narratives in literature, you relate to the anguish and despair which the young girl feels during the loss of her friendship. While war is raging on, this tale highlights the emotional toll which conflict has on children.
Religion is a huge aspect in both life and war throughout Africa. In Luxurious Hearses, the conflict between Christians and Muslims has many Christians fleeing south. However, when Jubril, a Muslim boy, is almost killed by his own Muslim community, he too must try and flee south, by bus, to live with his Christian father. As concealing his identity, and trying to pass as a Christian, seems difficult enough, more and more problems seem to arise during his long and emotionally confusing journey. One of the longest stories in the book, this tale exposes just how important, and fatal, religion is.
In the final story of the book, My Parents’ Bedroom follows the life of a young half-Tutsi, half-Hutu girl during the Rwandan Genocide. You follow the breaking of the young girl’s world as her family turns against one another, her wizard uncle curses her house, and as the responsibility of her younger brother is put into her hands. The Rwandan Genocide has been the theme for many movies and books about Africa, however none has captured the horrors and confusion which the Rwandan children faced during such a dark time as better as this short story has.
Say You’re One of Them is not a book about Africa, it is a story about the people of Africa. This was not my first time reading it and even after a second read, the stories are still unforgettable, and not only captivate your mind, but also your heart. Uwem Akpan, who was born in southern Nigeria and received his Masters of Fine Art at the University of Michigan, captured true childhood and family life during Africa’s hardest times. Say You’re One of Them, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, is an enlightening must-read for Africa and literature fans.
Purchase it at Amazon.com here: Say You’re One of Them
*Note: The review above is written by me. © Kalie Lyn 2011*