Uwem Akpan's stunning stories humanize the perils of poverty and violence so piercingly that few readers will feel they've ever encountered Africa so immediately. The eight-year-old narrator of "An Ex-Mas Feast" needs only enough money to buy books and pay fees in order to attend school. Even when his twelve-year-old sister takes to the streets to raise these meager funds, his dream can't be granted. Food comes first. His family lives in a street shanty in Nairobi, Kenya, but their way of both loving and taking advantage of each other strikes a universal chord.
In the second of his stories published in a New Yorker special fiction issue, Akpan takes us far beyond what we thought we knew about the tribal conflict in Rwanda. The story is told by a young girl, who, with her little brother, witnesses the worst possible scenario between parents. They are asked to do the previously unimaginable in order to protect their children. This singular collection will also take the reader inside Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia, revealing in beautiful prose the harsh consequences for children of life in Africa.
Akpan's voice is a literary miracle, rendering lives of almost unimaginable deprivation and terror into stories that are nothing short of transcendent.
I got stumped last year trying to review this book. On the heels of the Oprah's
announcement that Say You're One of Them would be her next book club
pick, I looked back on my abandoned draft. I see two paragraphs with an "x"
marked through them, and written at the bottom: I'm afraid I don't have the
right adjectives to review this book.
Unspeakable things happen to children in these stories, awful things we know are
happening to actual children in the real world. It's hard to explain, then, why
anyone should want to read them. The best I can come up with is that these
stories aren't about the unspeakable things that happen, but about how these children
survive them. It's a small shift, but an important one, and it's the very thing
that makes these stories beautiful and completely un-sensational. Without a
trace of train-wreck fascination, manipulation, or maudlin plea, Uwem Akpen
takes the reader by the hand, as kindly as a child would, inside the story. He
captures the inimitable mind of the child -- endlessly curious, hopeful, funny,
and resourceful even through terror, trauma, violence, starvation…
unfortunately, the list goes on. But at their core, these kids are just like any
others, which makes the stories all the more heartbreaking. - Lucia Silva (Reviewed by Lucia Silva).
Chicago Tribune - Alan Cheuse
An important literary debut.... Juxtaposed against the clarity and revelation in Akpan's prose -a s translucent a style as I've read in a long while - we find subjects that nearly render the mind helpless and throw the heart into a hopeless erratic rhythm out of fear, out of pity, out of the shame of being only a few degrees of separation removed from these monstrous modern circumstances...The reader discovers that no hiding place is good enough with these stories battering at your mind and heart.
O magazine - Vince Passaro
The humor, the endurance, the horrors and grace-Akpan has captured all of it.... The stories are not only amazing and moving, and imbued with a powerful moral courage-they are also surprisingly expert.... Beautifully constructed, stately in a way that offsets their impoverished scenarios. Akpan wants you to see and feel Africa, its glory and its pain. And you do, which makes this an extraordinary book.
Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese
Awe is the only appropriate response to Uwem Akpan's stunning debut, Say You're One of Them, a collection of five stories so ravishing and sad that I regret ever wasting superlatives on fiction that was merely very good....Akpan's characters are ordinary, flawed, sometimes funny kids who happen to be caught in a nightmare.... The book should be depressing, but the blazing humanity of the characters and the brilliance of Akpan's artistry make this one of the year's most exhilarating reads. A.
Haunting prose. Unrelenting horror. An almost unreadable must-read.
Starred Review. Akpan's prose is beautiful and his stories are insightful and revealing, made even more harrowing because all the horror—and there is much—is seen through the eyes of children.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Ally Sad, but so boring This book is very sad and very true, but the only thing about this book is that it's sooo boring at first. I mean the only story I found interesting was My Parents Bedroom.
Rated of 5
by BeeLyn Araya Say You're One Of Them Say You're One of Them is in a word, haunting. I read each paragraph, afraid, anxious of the next. I found myself objecting out loud, rooting for the children, not wanting to believe that the evil would prevail. This is the most important book I've... Read More
Uwem Akpan was born in Ikot Akpan Eda in southern
Nigeria. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2003
and received his MFA in creative writing from the
University of Michigan in 2006.
He started writing fiction during his seminary days,
at night when the community computers were free but
he lost much of his work to viruses.
Eventually, a friend gave him a laptop which, in his
own words, 'saved me from the despair of losing my
stories and made me begin to see God again in the
Bedroom", a story included in this, his first book,
was one of five short stories by African writers
chosen as finalists for The Caine Prize for African
Writing. In 2007, he began a teaching assignment at
a seminary in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The devastating story of war through the eyes of a child soldier. Beah tells how, at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, hed been picked up by the government army, and became a soldier.
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