African Reading Challenge: Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan


Wow, just wow. That’s about how I can sum up my reaction after finishing the book last night. I’m a bit behind the times. I know this book (rather collection, because it’s made up of 5 short stories) was really big back in 2008 & 2009 when Oprah had it part of her book club collection, but I never made time for personal reading back then. My excuse was that I was in college and didn’t have time for personal reading– as a history major I read enough for school. But my 1 year break between my undergrad & my grad school changed that. I’m still slow because I only have time to read a little at a time— but the point is I make the time now.

ANYWAYS, back to this book. Like I said, there’s 5 short stories: An Ex-Mas Feast, Fattening for Gabon, What Language Is That?, Luxurious Hearses, and My Parent’s Bedroom.

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There wasn’t a story that I didn’t like and that didn’t move me. I love that it moved around across the continent— tales from Nigeria (the author’s home country), Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and the last I’m actually not too sure Fattening for Gabon the kids were to GO to Gabon, and in the story broken French was spoken so my guess is Cameroon bordering Gabon, but I could be wrong. These stories are all narrated from the mindset of children which makes the tales more vivid from the eyes of the innocent.

I would love to say more about the stories but I don’t want to ruin these for anyone who hasn’t read them. None of the stories result in a happy ending— and that made these feel the most real. I felt I was witnessing many of the atrocities, and that can make these stories not for everyone but well worth the read for others. I’m not sure I can pick a favorite one because they’re all wonderful. The two longest stories Fattening for Gabon & Luxurious Hearses I felt the story was complete in a sense. The others felt almost too short, like the ending of the stories were abruptly cut out. I liked and didn’t like that.

I can say that Luxurious Hearses probably hit my the hardest. As I think I mentioned, I studied African History quite extensively in my undergrad years. I love Africa. Nigeria is a weakness on my end. Though I remember my classes studying their history & the Biafran war, I’ve always been slightly confused on details. So as much as I know this story didn’t shock me but made me long to learn more about Nigeria. I didn’t expect a happy outcome but I still longed for one. After finishing it I sat there for a good 30 minutes just stunned though. Uwem Akpan writes these stories so effortlessly, it’s wonderful. From what I’ve seen in reviews online the Rwandan story seems to hit everyone the hardest, this wasn’t the case for me. It was a wonderful story, and I really wanted to read more. I wonder if it’s just lack of knowledge by most Americans. I’ve studied the atrocities (and the history leading up to it) it great detail, so nothing was shocking to me— heartbreaking, yes, but not shocking. The scene with the toddler and his mother was horrible in a really tragic sense. I can absolutely picture that scene in real life. What I loved most what that, without saying so, Akpan brought out the issues with the “racial” categories in Rwanda. Most Americans I know only know of Rwanda through Hotel Rwanda— even there, the issue is slightly brought up but it is not picked up on. I remember being extremely upset because I thought maybe people would understand, but that didn’t seem to be the case. People still talk about it as “tribal warfare” and things of that extent. So I love that the little girl Monique talked about her mother’s description, and then that uncle looked like her and vice versa for her father and other family.

As I said a bit earlier, I want to read more on Nigeria right now. So for the next book I just picked up Half of a Yellow Sun. I guess I’m making my way through these bestsellers & award winners I never got to in the past. I’m using NovelList to help me find African Authors and that’s been very helpful.

The only negative thing I can say was I had some language difficulties. African languages are scattered throughout and some transliteration which can be difficult in some instances. Some words feel like they had no meaning, possibly just emphasis words. It made it a little disjointed, but didn’t take away from the feel. I think others could critique French usage in here too, but as I speak French (enough) I had no issues there. Overall the choices of language make it feel more authentic, but that doesn’t make it easy!

Until next time—

Danielle

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