I am a huge fan of short stories. Usually they have a single exquisitely described setting, a limited number of characters who you immediately get to know, like or loathe and a brilliantly crafted unexpected ending.
Say you’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan lived up to my expectation. This may be bias but Africans write the best short stories. Perhaps I think this way because they are arguably familiar and relatable.
This collection by the Nigerian author has 5 stories while tell tales of children in different parts of Africa. A slum in Kenya, a border town in Benin, a middle class neighbourhood in Ethiopia, a bus terminus in Northern Nigeria and a home in Rwanda.
The book deals with plight millions of children on the continent face, from being forced into sex work to support a family, being sold into slavery, as well religious and cultural persecution. Each story paints a different reality and gives a voice to children who are so often neglected and forgotten.
These stories are tales of suffering and sorrow though some are interlaced with hope and humour. You get the sense from the start of each that the protagonists are doomed but find yourself crossing fingers anticipating a fairy tale outcome for them.
A religious undertone resonates throughout the book and this is no surprise as Akpan is a Jesuit priest. This however does not weigh it down and the author does not focus on Catholicism but also explores Islam, other denominations of Christianity and even traditional African faiths.
What I didn’t like about the book was that two of the short stories were over 100 pages long. This bothered me because for the most part they are set in a singular space and it felt like the plot was unnecessarily drawn out.
My favourite of the lot is the final one, My Parent’s Bedroom which was shortlisted for a Caine Prize in 2007. Written in the first person it is the account of a Rwandan girl, born to Hutu father and a Tusti mother, who is trying to understand the changes taking place in their household as a vicious mob of Hutu relatives, neighbours and friends descend upon her home looking for her parents.
A harrowing tale of the 1994 genocide told by a 9 years and 7 months old girl who is instructed by her mother to look after her infant brother and wait for her father while her mama uncharacteristically goes out at night.
Aside from the two long stories I did enjoy this read and do recommend it. #FunFact it made it on to Oprah’s Book Club in 2009.
Next up. #4 – A book that became a movie.