“Say You’re One of Them” by Uwem Akpan

“Say You’re One of Them” by Uwem Akpan

As I went through the pages of Uwem’s offerings, I could feel Uwem has more experiences to share than what he has written on in those five stories that make up Say You’re One of Them. My premise is rooted in the manner Uwem drags on in some of the stories, which individually spans almost a hundred pages, sating the reader with the superfluous details he wants the reader to know. He tends to be so compassionately biased with the way he tells some issues with brevity aided with creativity and others in a narrative that nearly makes them novellas within a collection of five short stories. What however lures the reader into Uwem’s stories is in the narrative spells that can only be identified with a narrator who is not only telling his stories in vivid descriptive words, but in the smoothness of one who knows his stories well before telling them. You might be wondering what collection of five short stories really chronicles the events in Africa in picturesque sequences. You only will need to be told that each of the stories, set in five different countries of the continent and relayed in children’s perspective, does not foist what should be on you but rather makes you piece meanings together for yourself from the accounts of disoriented children of nefarious abuses and violence.

Uwem must have been aware that his piece of literature could easily be thrown off as one of the lots that appeal to the West with fixed African themes of child soldering, religious calamity, child trafficking, etc, hence he adopts the point of view that speaks with tones of innocence rather than narratives that relay events with adult confident accuracy.  Sympathy can always save flaws when stories are told by a child and one might not quickly overreact against pictures that are just too blackly painted to seek pity when it is a minor blathering about them. Say You’re One of Them seems to make a reader confess and expiate on behalf of the villain in sheer empathy that grieves one so dearly after each story.

Say You’re One of Them is an afro geo-collection of short stories which unfolds in different settings of five African countries.

 

Five Countries; Five Short Stories

An Ex-mas Feast (kenya):  Maisha is never her family’s favourite when it comes to moral standards, but she does command the greatest dignity when the family needs depend on the income she gets from prostituting as a minor. She is the sacrificial lamb that holds the family together in seeming unity until the Ex-mas Feast when she explores full time in her trade to cater for the more demanding wants of her family.

Fattening for Gabon (Benin): For Yewa and Kotchikpa, the coming of a Nanfang motorbike into their uncle’s, Fofo Kpee, home is the beginning of the abysmal era that will soon ravage them apart. When the source of the Nanfang is known, it has already become too late for Fofo Kpee to remedy events and protect his cousins against the suffering he has sold them into. The story delves into the hypocrisy of religion while it still maintains its objectivity on the child-trafficking issue that majorly characterizes the story.

What Language Is That? (Ethiopia): Before the war that tears the narrator apart from her best friend, Salem, all what they know is the world they have mutually created in their own infantile simplicity. In severe suddenness, they become as guilty as the circumstance that creates a gorge between them. With the falseness of emotions that those caught in the middle of religious crisis exude, the two children go aboard to learn another language that can communicate their friendliness to each other even though the plumes of thick smoke that billows from the charred part of their houses robs the atmosphere of all harmony.

Luxurious Hearses (Nigeria):  The quietness of the hearse might not be luxurious to the dead. Maimed and mangled cadavers are never a pleasant sight even when ferried in luxurious buses. The situation that plagues the characters in this story is antithetical to the lives they must have lived at one time or the other. After Tijani’s co-Muslim faithful betray his trust during a religious war in the northern part of the country, he returns to reposing his confidence in the God of the south he knows little about. A fanatic of some sort, Tijani who calmly watches the martyring of his blood brother, who is of the Christian faith, can’t brave it to reveal his Muslim identity in the refugee bus where he seeks protection. Amidst staccato bursts of gunfire, jarred dismembered bodies and reprisal attacks from the two religious sides (Muslim and Christian) and ethnic groups (Hausas and Igbos), Tijiani almost does make it, but his chopped off hand becomes his main enemy.

My Parents’ Bedroom (Rwanda): As succinct as this story is, it well re-enacts the inter-tribal carnage between the Hutu and the Tutsi brilliantly. A child can eavesdrop on the creaking bed of his parents, but when the matrimonial room of the home becomes an abattoir where the mother’s head is slashed, the memory of the bedroom may become a hunting ghost. This story uses the setting of a simple Rwandan family to show how inhuman the war between the two tribes is and how the actors of the savage wear bestiality as fitting garbs.

 

Take this…

I am afraid this collection might turn out to be Uwem’s best work; I can hardly hope he will write anything as entrancing as this. That some of the stories are almost on the whole pages of the book shows he was under pressure as to what medium to pass his messages through; a collection of short stories or a full novel. Writing about religion is one fragile issue writers seldom dwell on. Being a Jesuit priest, I thought Uwem Akpan will let prejudice guide him towards giving an imbalanced narration while stifling the views of the opposite religion in Luxurious Hearses. The diplomacy he employed in equally giving voices to the two religious sides takes Luxurious Hearses out of the packs that use literature as their controlled mock courts where cases are adjudged on emotions and microscopic reasoning.

 



35 thoughts on ““Say You’re One of Them” by Uwem Akpan” by Joseph Omotayo (@strongself)

  1. Now this is a review I appreciate!!!!

    I feel my literature palate salivating already…I want to…NEED TO read this.

    Even the cover gan don sell the book. Nice review.

    1. Thanks for reading, Seun. The book is indeed good in its own way. And the cover, yeah, it is so attractive.

  2. @Seun: Guy, you should read the book o! It is rare to come by but really great…Had to use all
    my influence to get the book from Fr. Uwem’s friend…and it turned out to be worth it!
    I read this on the blog. Interesting review…Your style of analysis is really good J’…
    For this place, I can only say this is really nice but for the blog, jare, for critical review, you for
    add something plenti! Fr. Uwem did a really good job in this book…Those Jesuits guys, anything
    dey do ma na helele…Might get to you soon for some thoughts on the book especially as pertains
    its postcolonial features….Well done on the usual good work man…

    1. See this bobo with influence o. Can we collabo so that your influence go dey bring free books for me and me go dey write the reviews for you to read? Guy, you get mouth o. As for the availability of the book, I saw it on the shelf of Silverbird LifeStyle Store in VI some time last year. A friend in the State got this one for me through Amazon.

      More than one review can be written on a book, I might still do a more lengthy critical analysis any other time. I see this review as one that is simple, briefly analytical and precisely critical in its form.

      Thanks for reading, man

      1. hmm…na you sabi…hee hee hee…Saw the comments on the blog – thanks.
        Would really look forward to a more critical review of the book from you Joseph…I felt you in this synopsis
        but yes, we want more!

        P.S: The pains of getting this book brings the issue of availability of books and their price again! Ha!

        1. Your blog look so alluring. I couldn’t resist it.

          Okay, I will take that as an honourable request. I will do a more critical work on the book.

          Books availability and prices, abeg, let’s leave that matter for another day. I don talk on am so teh my mouth dey sore me. The first time I saw the price tag of this book in Silverbird LifeStyle store, I almost collapse. That it was just adopted on the reading list of Oprah at that time worsened it more. If I sold my shirt, trousers and shoe that day, I doubt it would make up the money the book went for. Anyway, we go still they read. Abi no be so?

  3. Good review. I like this.

    1. Thank you Eletrika. I’m glad you like this one.

      1. Haba @joseph, you’re making it seem as if I don’t like you. Nah. This is just very clear and understandable to me.

        1. @babyada. Sista, I no say that o. No.. No.. No…@babyada. I was only being appreciative of your thought on this review.

  4. God give me more than 24 hours daily and I might get to read all these books.

    1. Kaycee, see, now look at me and listen attentively; you don’t need to pray too much. Just contact me and be ready to part with some good NaijaStories points and I will show you how to make a better and more accomplishing use of your 24 hours, reading the numbers of books you want. Do you know it is possible you read 24 books in 24 hours? Surprised? Yeah, it is possible. And that is how efficient the solution I will give you will be.

      Contact me now now. I know, with this announcement, readers and writers on NS will instantly rush at this offer. (ring.. ring… See, they are calling me already. Hello… ehe…) Be quick while the offer still lasts and affordable.

      1. @Kaycee: He is serious…I don dey try im number but the line don jam…You can send him an e-mail sha…Abi Joseph?

        Kai Joseph…you never stop dey beg for points? :)

        1. Yeah, I gbadun your advert, @sueddie. Advertise for @Kaycee well-well. For @Kaycee, I fit designate a private number for am for ease of access.

          @sueddie. Na you sabi. Se e concern you if @Kaycee donate 10,000 NS points for me ni?

      2. And you actually think if I get more than 24 hours I will use it to read books??
        Haba!

        1. @Kaycee. No bi you say you want more than 24 hours to read all books? Don’t worry, I know say the demanded NS 10,000 dey scare you, we still fit cut am to 5,000 points.

          Call me now and get the magic portion. No let @sueddie confuse you…

          1. Hee hee hee…Joseph!! Behind this your joke, I see the knees touch the floor
            Kaycee, biko, this guy is points broke…
            …hee hee hee :)

            1. @sueddie!!! Na you sabi. Oya, stop interrupting the NS-points-blessings from @Kaycee. Abi you wan pour stew inside my palm wine ni.

      3. Se, bonanza dey?

        1. @shaifamily. Correct. 20% discount dey. Offer lasts till Valentine day.

  5. I like your style. I hope the book is short enough. Lol. Ill look for it. You make it sound so cooooool.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, gooseberry. The book is just some pages short to making 300. I hope that is good for you. Thanks for reading…

  6. Enticing review! Wow! The book sure covers Africa. How wonderful! Hope the price has been reduced sha?

    1. @dowell Well, I can’t really say anything about the current price. But I think it should have reduced as the noise and rave reviews on the book have lessened in attractions. That has always been the norm with books published outside Nigeria; whenever their commercial reviews are high and new, their prices remain high to maintain the social status, but as soon as attention start shifting from them, their prices gradually drop too. So, if we are to go by that observation for this book, its price should be down by now.

      Thanks for reading, man

  7. This writer seems to be out of the Naija world of writers… I was privileged to attend just one of his readings in Abuja, since then, I just read about him via international media… I realised that he is more celebrated outside Nigeria than in Nigeria…. I really appreciate his works… One needs to listen to this guy read his stories… Seems his stories all got some kind of gigantic spirits…

    1. @julemyles. Gigantic spirits in the stories?! Thank God they are not in this collection. Chei, how I hate spirits!

      Thanks for reading, man.

  8. @Julemyles: Most of our writers are celebrated more outside than in…
    In fact, we mainly celebrate the ones that are celebrated outside…It’s like we find out ‘Who’s the world celebrating?’
    We have to make a change and start celebrating ourselves…

    1. @sueddie. And that is so bad for literature in the country. It is good writers in the country are now grouping up on social and collective platforms (like NS, Jalaa and the rest) for some recognition. With the power of the internet, I think we are now celebrating ourselves in the little ways we can. NS is doing well in that regard.

  9. Nice…but this ya review eh… e just be like say U enter room begin talk for middle of sentence… At least Ur language was simple.In all. good review.

    1. @raymond. Na you sabi joor. Anyway, thanks for reading.

  10. I really liked the review.Excellent review.

    1. @literarymouthpiece. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  11. ahem…am late…again¿ i read a review of dis buk on africanwriters sometime last yr bt it was nt as captivating as urs. am itching to read d book nw, u can help?

    interest comments@kaycee@suiddieagama@shai@strongself

  12. Thanks for reading this and commenting on it. If you were in Ife, I would lend you my copy. Anyway, you can get it in some bookshops if you are in Lagos. I know of Deboniar Bookshop, Silverbird’s LifeStyle Store and Terra Kulture’s Bookshop

  13. @strongself Wonderful review.

    A few months ago, I was asked by a colleague to recommend books for his long essay and I stumbled on the text. Had to read to give my sincere verdict and I was really impressed. Books like this are really rare.

    Lovely depictions and he really did good with telling the stories from the perspectives of the children. About Luxurious Hearses (I’m not yet sure if it’s my favourite), but the way it ended was totally and shockingly unexpected. I so love the way events played out. I also thoroughly enjoyed Fattening for Gabon. :)

    I like his attempt to take himself out of his religious shell and present events objectively. I’m not surprised but it’s a shame he’s not popular in Nigeria.

    Well Done!!!

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