Akpan, Uwem: Say You’re One of Them (2008)
Discussion: Thursday, October 8, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information.
Review: © Booklist: With this heart-stopping collection, which includes the New Yorker piece, An Ex-Mas Feast, that marked Akpan as a breakout talent, the Nigerian-born Jesuit priest relentlessly personalizes the unstable social conditions of sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout, child narrators serve as intensifying prisms for horror, their vulnerability and slowly eroding innocence lending especially chilling dimensions to the volume’s two most riveting entries: Fattening for Gabon (one of the book’s three novellas), about the systematic grooming of a Benin 10-year-old and his sister for sale to a sex-slavery ring; and the collection’s title story, a harrowing plunge into the mind of a mixed-race girl during the Rwandan genocide. From the slurp of machetes slashing into flesh to a toddler’s oblivious stomping through blood puddling from his mother’s crushed skull, Akpan tackles grisly violence head-on, but most of the stories, with the exception of the overlong, metaphor-laden Luxurious Hearses, are lifted above consciousness-raising shockers by Akpan’s sure characterizations, understated details, and culturally specific dialect. Don’t expect to emerge with redemption delivered on a silver platter. The stories’ tattered hope comes indirectly, from the thirst for broader knowledge about Africa’s postcolonial conflicts they’ll engender, and from the possibility that the collection’s opening map, with the featured nations labeled (as helpful as it is a glaring symbol of most Western readers’ woeful ignorance), will someday prove superfluous.