Double Review: Say You’re One of Them and Things Fall Apart

Say You’re One of Them
Uwem Akpan
Back Bay Books, 2009 (2008)

Say You’re One of Them is a collection of five stories by Nigerian author Uwem Akpan, each of them about the lives and experiences of children in Africa (Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, among others).

The stories are not easy to read. Despite (or perhaps because of) the youth and innocence of their central characters, they harshly illuminate the conflicts that have inflicted such terrible and frequently violent suffering on Africa in recent decades. In “My Parents’ Bedroom,” for example, nine-year-old Monique witnesses first-hand the genocidal war that seemed to erupt overnight in Rwanda, a war that literally enters her home when her Hutu father butchers her Tutsi mother before her. “Luxurious Hearses” tells of Jubril’s efforts to flee to his father’s homeland in southern Nigeria – a flight that requires the teenager to conceal his Muslim faith, including the stump of an arm that marks him as a thief convicted under sharia, on a bus overcrowded with Christians driven from the north by sectarian violence. “Fattening for Gabon” is a story about a brother and sister sold by their uncle into slavery for a motorbike, while “What Language Is That?” shows two Ethiopian girls perplexed to learn one morning that they can never play together again because one is Muslim and the other Christian. Lastly, “An Ex-Mas Feast” depicts one Christmas celebration for a family living in a shack in Nairobi, their most precious gift a can of shoe glue they take turns sniffing at to stave off hunger pangs.

Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Anchor Books, 1994 (1959)

Things Fall Apart was the debut novel of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2007 and hailed as the father of modern African literature. It tells the story of prosperous Ibo yam farmer Okonkwo’s fall from grace. Exiled for seven years for an inadvertent violation of one of his village’s sacred laws, humiliated by his son’s behavior, Okonkwo’s longed-for return to glory fails to materialize, and he is driven to commit one final desperate act.

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