Synopses & Reviews
From the best-selling author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce, this debut novel is a gripping survival story of a young man trapped, perhaps fatally, during a border crossing.
Héctor is trapped. The water truck, sealed to hide its human cargo, has broken down. The coyotes have taken all the passengers’ money for a mechanic and have not returned. Those left behind have no choice but to wait.
Héctor finds a name in his friend César’s phone. AnniMac. A name with an American number. He must reach her, both for rescue and to pass along the message César has come so far to deliver. But are his messages going through?
Over four days, as water and food run low, Héctor tells how he came to this desperate place. His story takes us from Oaxaca — its rich culture, its rapid change — to the dangers of the border. It exposes the tangled ties between Mexico and El Norte — land of promise and opportunity, homewrecker and unreliable friend. And it reminds us of the power of storytelling and the power of hope, as Héctor fights to ensure his message makes it out of the truck and into the world.
Both an outstanding suspense novel and an arresting window into the relationship between two great cultures, The Jaguar’s Children shows how deeply interconnected all of us, always, are.
"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
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.
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.
An unforgettable, page-turning survival story recounted by Hector, a man trapped—perhaps fatally—inside a tanker truck during an illegal border crossing, telling of his hopes for rescue, the joys and trials of his life, and what has brought us all to this moment
About the Author
Uwem Akpan was born in a village in Nigeria and currently teaches in Zimbabwe. After studying philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga universities, he studied theology for three years at the Catholic University of East 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 included in this, his first collection, was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for The Caine Prize for African Writing.