Summary and book reviews of Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana Nkweti

Walking on Cowrie Shells

by Nana Nkweti

Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana  Nkweti X
Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana  Nkweti
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Jun 2021, 176 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

A "boisterous and high-spirited debut" (Kirkus starred review), named one of the Most Anticipated Books for Brittle Paper, The Millions, and The Rumpus, penned by a finalist for the AKO Caine Prize.

In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti's virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story "It Takes a Village, Some Say," Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes. In "The Devil Is a Liar," a pregnant pastor's wife struggles with the collision of western Christianity and her mother's traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child.

In other stories, Nkweti vaults past realism, upending genre expectations in a satirical romp about a jaded PR professional trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, and in a mermaid tale about a Mami Wata who forgoes her power by remaining faithful to a fisherman she loves. In between these two ends of the spectrum there's everything from an aspiring graphic novelist at a comic con to a murder investigation driven by statistics to a story organized by the changing hairstyles of the main character.

Pulling from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels, Nkweti showcases the complexity and vibrance of characters whose lives span Cameroonian and American cultures. A dazzling, inventive debut, Walking on Cowrie Shells announces the arrival of a superlative new voice.

The Baby Shower

I walk into a room of double-chinned smiles and belly laughs. Every woman—there are only women—looks ample, replete. A susurrus of sighs and coos emanates from their midst. I move closer to investigate. The source? Perpetual, the mother-to-be, happily ensconced in a ribbon-decked place of honor, a ravaged gift box balanced on the rotunda of her tummy. Strewn at her feet, gutted boxes, once fatty with BabyBjörns, day rompers, night rompers, and Diaper Genies.

"Pepe, I done reach," announces my cousin Belinda. I note the collective eye roll from the women gathered. Belinda's tardiness is legend, even in a social set where four-o'clock weddings often start at seven.

"Chey, Belinda, you di talksay you done reach? You for come and baby done already born, oh!" jokes one older aunty, adjusting the auburn Jheri curl wig capsized on her head.

There is a chorus of laughter. Perpetual, already cultivating an air of maternal stoicism, grants Belinda a beatific ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Each story is a contained world with its own magic, each protagonist a fully realized construction with the walls of cultural expectations closing in around them. Some short story collections that cover many genres and styles can invoke a kind of narrative vertigo in which the reader struggles to keep up with a parade of jarring transitions, but that does not occur here. Nkweti is so deft at every turn and so confident, it is easy to trust in even the boldest and most abrupt swerves...continued

Full Review Members Only (628 words).

(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

Women's Review of Books
A vivacious collection with sentences that sizzle on the page...Nkweti's book is sharp and gorgeous.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Nkweti's beautiful and immersive debut collection challenges hackneyed depictions of a monolithic Africa through an array of dynamic stories that reflect the heterogeneity of Africans and the Cameroonian diaspora...This is a groundbreaking and vital work.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Explosive prose and imaginative plots characterize this debut collection of 10 stories populated by zombies and mermaids, adopted girls and grown women and set in places as familiar as suburban New Jersey, as exotic as Comic-Con, and as far away as Cameroon...Boisterous and high-spirited debut stories by a talented new writer.

Author Blurb Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Less
What an intoxicating book! Magical, funny, inventive and joyous, Nkweti's tales remind us what storytelling can be.

Author Blurb Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Ghost Variations
Let us thank whoever granted Nana Nkweti her all-access-pass to the human soul, for with it she is able to gain entry into the lives of women and men, children and adults, the damaged and the damaging, the human and the not-quite, all with equal clarity and conviction. Walking on Cowrie Shells is a collection of verve, audacity, and consummate control. That it is her first book makes it all the more astonishing.

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Orange World
Nana Nkweti's ambitious, amphibious tales capture the diverse and complex experience of 'hyphenated-Americans' who, like Nkweti, have deep roots in Africa and America. It would be impossible to overstate how much I love this book, and its author."

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Beyond the Book

The 1929 Women's War in Nigeria

Women of Aba, Nigeria in the early 20th century In a story called "The Statistician's Wife" in Walking on Cowrie Shells, a Nigerian woman tells her white husband, "In 1929, ten thousand Igbo women started ogu umunwanyi, the Women's War. When men do wrong, we 'sit on you.' It's part of our tradition, how we protest."

Her description is accurate, but she is simplifying the historical event as a means of teasing her husband. The reality was much more complicated. British colonization of Nigeria began around the middle of the 19th century, and the Women's War was primarily a rebellion against colonial rule and the oppression of women.

In 1914, the British governor of southern Nigeria, Lord Frederick Lugard, placed the colony under the authority of local leaders called Warrant ...

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