50 Books by Authors of Color: Book 16
Title: Say You’re One of Them
Author: Uwem Akpan
There’s a reason Oprah selected this for her book club, some of the stories are very moving, heartfelt and realistic. Akpan manages to capture quite astutely personalities and struggles in some characters. However some of the stories just drag on and on. This doesn’t make them bad stories, I rather liked the one titled “Luxurious Hearses” about a young Muslim man named Jubril/Gabriel who is taking a bus from the war torn Muslim North to the safer Christian South, on a bus full of Christians who would kill any Muslim hiding among them. I held my breath as I read the story, hoping that Jubril wouldn’t be recognized for what he was and would be able to escape, for the first 10 pages, after that I just wanted there to be some kind of action. Instead I felt like the story was spending a lot of time othering Jubril/Gabriel from the Christians on the bus. Talking about how he felt television was evil; his opinions on women on the bus and talking to them, and the fact that he had a hand cut off for stealing.
I think the best stories in the collection are “An Ex-mas Feast”, a story about a young boy from a very poor begging family and “What Language Is That?” a story about a young Christmas girl and her Muslim best friend, who are torn apart because of the battle between Christians and Muslims. “An Ex-mas Feast” is nearly heartbreaking, as the narrator’s twelve-year-old sister is a prostitute who is considering going “full-time” and working in a brothel. The story is depressing, depicting the family’s use of kabire, shoe glue that the children would huff to quell their hunger, and the use of the family baby in shifts to get more money when they begged. “What Language Is That?” was beautifully written, it was a story that just exuded love regardless of circumstances.
This book was not without flaws. Some of the stories were difficult to read because of the mash-up of various languages. Some words are impossible to understand based on context because they’re used constantly and the context changes and it really detracted from the flow of the book in my mind because I’d have to try and understand what a word meant or sometimes what a word was because even though it was in English it was spelled how the speaker was supposed to pronounce it.
Worth reading, more action packed than Things Fall Apart but I think Achbe has Akpan on prose.
Overall Rating: 3/5