Book Rec: Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
An Oprah Book Club recommendation, I listened to the audiobook of these short stories. Say You’re One of Them left me affected to put it mildly. It brought to life such tragedy and violence in various countries of Africa. After reading “We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families” about the Rwandan genocide, I thought I understood the delicate balance of neighbor killing neighbor, but listening to Akpan’s story about the young children in struggling to comprehend unspeakable acts was gut wrenching. Listening to these stories helps speak life into the tragedies. The universal challenge faced in each story is how children in Africa struggle to stay alive. Each story in this 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.
Uwem Akpan's debut novel signals the arrival of a breathtakingly talented writer who gives a matter-of-fact reality to the most extreme circumstances in stories that are nothing short of transcendent. The audiobook has an interview with the author at the end.
Each of the stories is told through the eyes of a child. How does that change or impact your reaction?
In Ex-Mas Feast, Maisha (the 12-year) was a full-time prostitute. Do you think she had a choice in her actions? Is it possible to have complete freedom of will in such a situation?
While these short stories are fiction, they are based in reality. How has this novel changed how you think about these tragedies? How do the short stories compare to what you read in the media? Is your reaction different?
What are the universal obstacles these children face?