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Say You're One of Them (Paperback)

Product DescriptionEach story in this jubilantly acclaimed 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 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.

About the AuthorUwem Akpan was born in Ikot Akpan Eda in southern Nigeria. After studying philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga universities, he studied theology for three years at the Catholic University of Eastern 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 from his short story collection, Say You’re One of Them, was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for The Caine Prize for African Writing 2007. Say You’re One of Them won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region) 2009 and PEN/Beyond Margins Award 2009, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. In 2007, Akpan taught at a Jesuit college in Harare, Zimbabwe. Now he serves at Christ the King Church, Ilasamaja-Lagos, Nigeria.

A beautiful, tragic collection, September 19, 2009
By Brooke Cunningh

I read this book a couple weeks ago and am pleased to see it added as Oprah's latest Book Club selection. Say You're One of Them is a collection of five short stories penned by Uwen Akpam, a Jesuit priest who studied creative writing at the University of Michigan. The stories are set in modern day Africa, and most are written from a child's perspective. The stories deal with very serious issues, such as genocide, race conflict, poverty, and slavery. Each account is a deeply moving depiction of individuals forced to struggle through oppressive life circumstances. Though tragic, the stories are deeply moving and transformative for the reader.

It's hard to do justice here to the significance of this book. I wept several times while reading it. Akpam was inspired to write by the people in his village church who would stay after Mass to share palm wine and reminisce about the best. Though fiction, the depth and heartbreak in these stories rings true. I feel deeply and fundamentally changed for the better after having read it.

I'm now reading Emotional Intelligence 2.0. It's outstanding and even uplifting (which I can sure use). If you have any interest in personal development, I recommend buying both books. Now I just need to figure out what I'm going to read next!

An unforgettable, beautiful, authentic and wise literary call to action, September 18, 2009
By (New York, New York)

Uwem Akpan is a Nigerian Jesuit priest and writing teacher living in Zimbabwe, and his stories are garnering much acclaim. Just a few pages into his debut collection, it is easy to see why. Beautiful and devastating, the five tales found in SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM are at once compelling and painful to read. All told from the narrative perspective of a child in crisis, they symbolize a continent in crisis as well. Set in African hot spots like Ethiopia and Rwanda, the stories revolve around themes of family and identity, religion and ethnicity, all complicated by violence, fear and poverty.

A destitute family in Nairobi inhales glue to stave off hunger and watches their 12-year-old daughter turn to prostitution in "An Ex-mas Feast." Two little girls in Ethiopia --- one Muslim, one Christian --- are best friends until religious tensions and riots in their city force them apart in "What Language is That?" Both these stories are short yet highly effective. The three remaining tales, however, are even more amazing and heartbreaking.

The nine-year-old girl at the center of "In My Parents' Bedroom" is forced to watch as the horrors and injustices of contemporary Rwanda play out in her house, each of her parents having to take opposing sides. In less than 30 pages, Akpan spins a brilliant tale that entrances and repulses, capturing the complexities of the situation and reminding readers that there are real lives at stake beyond this fiction.

In "Fattening for Gabon" two young siblings are being raised by a kindly and affectionate uncle as their parents lie dying of AIDS in their home village. Kotchipka and Yewa are spoiled and feasted by their uncle's new friends, but Kotchipka realizes that he and his sister are in grave danger and tries to resist their charms. By the end he knows he must fight for his own survival and that of his little sister, or be sold into slavery.

"Luxurious Hearses" is the story of a 16-year-old Muslim boy escaping from one end of Nigeria to the Christian region and the home of the father he has never known. Pretending to be a Christian, he finds himself stuck on a bus full of Catholics and Pentecostals, not to mention a tribal chief of the indigenous religion. As the stuffy, overcrowded bus sits and awaits its driver, wave after wave of tension ripple through it, threatening violence. Differing political views and beliefs find common ground in a hatred of Muslims, and Jubril --- far from his family and having been turned against by other Muslims --- must keep up his façade, all the while praying to Allah for help. The bus becomes a microcosm of a divided nation, and Jubril's internal exploration of identity and personal history is symbolic of the confusion, faith, hopes and fears of its citizens. Akpan takes readers on Jubril's fascinating journey and delivers a surprising and very memorable ending.

In each story Akpan uses language, often a broken but lyrical English, to show the similarities and differences between the diverse peoples of Africa. Because of this, along with powerful plots and sympathetic narrators, SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM is an unforgettable, beautiful, authentic and wise literary call to action. Akpan's book is highly recommended and will leave readers wanting more of his dark, carefully moralistic and quite extraordinary tales.

--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman