Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Nigerian-born Jesuit priest Akpan transports the reader into gritty scenes of chaos and fear in his rich debut collection of five long stories set in war-torn Africa. 'An Ex-mas Feast' tells the heartbreaking story of eight-year-old Jigana, a Kenyan boy whose 12-year-old sister, Maisha, works as a prostitute to support her family. Jigana's mother quells the children's hunger by having them sniff glue while they wait for Maisha to earn enough to bring home a holiday meal. In 'Luxurious Hearses,' Jubril, a teenage Muslim, flees the violence in northern Nigeria. Attacked by his own Muslim neighbors, his only way out is on a bus transporting Christians to the south. In 'Fattening for Gabon,' 10-year-old Kotchikpa and his younger sister are sent by their sick parents to live with their uncle, Fofo Kpee, who in turn explains to the children that they are going to live with their prosperous 'godparents,' who, as Kotchikpa pieces together, are actually human traffickers. 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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Haunting prose. Unrelenting horror. An almost unreadable must-read." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[A] startling debut collection....[Akpan] fuses a knowledge of African poverty and strife with a conspicuously literary approach to storytelling, filtering tales of horror through the wide eyes of the young." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"All the promise and heartbreak of Africa today are brilliantly illuminated in this debut collection." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"African writer and Jesuit priest Uwem Akpan depicts the plight of African children with the kind of restraint only possible when an author fully inhabits his characters — he manages to be empathetic without being condescending." The Village Voice
About the Author
Uwem Akpan was born in Ikot Akpan Eda in southern Nigeria. After studying philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga universities, he studied theology for three years at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2003 and received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2006. "My Parents' Bedroom," a story from his short story collection, Say You're One of Them, was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for The Caine Prize for African Writing 2007. Say You're One of Them won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region) 2009 and PEN/Beyond Margins Award 2009, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. In 2007, Akpan taught at a Jesuit college in Harare, Zimbabwe. Now he serves at Christ the King Church, Ilasamaja-Lagos, Nigeria.