Synopses & Reviews
Uwem Akpan's first published short story, "An Ex-mas Feast," appeared in The New Yorker
's Debut Fiction issue in 2005. The story's portrait of a family living together in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya, and their attempts to find gifts of any kind for the impending Christmas holiday, gives a matter-of-fact reality to the most extreme circumstances — and signaled the arrival of a breathtakingly talented writer.
"My Parents' Bedroom" is a Rwandan girl's account of her family's struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy amid unspeakable acts. In "Fat-tening for Gabon," a brother and sister cope with their uncle's attempt to sell them into slavery. "Luxurious Hearses" creates a microcosm of Africa within a busload of refugees and introduces us to a Muslim boy who summons his faith to bear a treacherous ride through Nigeria. "What Language Is That?" reveals the emotional toll of the Christian-Muslim conflict in Ethiopia through the eyes of childhood friends.
Every story is a testament to the wisdom and resilience of children, even in the face of the most agonizing situations our planet can offer.
"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.)
"[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
"Awe is the only appropriate response to Uwem Akpan's stunning debut...a collection of five stories so ravishing and sad that I regret ever wasting superlatives on fiction that was merely very good. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"Haunting prose. Unrelenting horror. An almost unreadable must-read." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"All the promise and heartbreak of Africa today are brilliantly illuminated in this debut collection." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"Uwem Akpan's brilliant Say You're One of Them proves that great fiction often can reveal more truth than a whole shelf of memoirs and histories....Akpan creates an extraordinary portrait of modern Africa with his debut short-story collection." USA Today
"Akpan has demonstrated the true talent of a fiction writer: He is a gifted storyteller capable of bringing to life myriad characters and points of view....[T]he result is admirable, artistically as well as morally." The Christian Science Monitor
"Juxtaposed against the clarity and revelation in Akpan's prose — as translucent a style as I've read in a long while — we find subjects that nearly render the mind helpless and throw the heart into a hopeless erratic rhythm out of fear, out of pity, out of the shame of being only a few degrees of separation removed from these monstrous modern circumstances." Alan Cheuse, The Chicago Tribune
"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
From a portrait of a family living together in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya to a Rwandan girl's account of her family's struggles to maintain normalcy amid unspeakable horrors, each of the short stories in this collection is a testament to the wisdom and resilience of children.
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.