The adult book club at the school where I teach picked Say You're One Of Them for our October read weeks before the Oprah news. And no matter what you think of the Oprah Book Club machine, I believe that if you read this book, you will agree that this is a gutsy pick for a brand that has become associated with mass market appeal. This book is devastating in its depictions of violence and deprivation as experienced through the eyes of some of Africa's children. It is consuming, gut-wrenching, and so subtly blends it's unvarnished realism with the craft of fine storytelling, that the reader hardly knows where they have landed upon completing this collection of short stories. This is not a feel-good book club choice. It is a fine one though for the stout of heart.
The description from the publisher:
"Each 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."
Akpan's prose has been repeatedly described as "translucent," revealing the minute details of savaged innocence without sentiment, without judgement. Take for instance this passage from the first story in the collection, "An Ex-Mas Feast:"
"Mama smiled at the glue and winked at me, pushing her tongue through the holes left by her missing teeth. She snapped the tin's top expertly, and the shack swelled with the smell of a shoemaker's stall. I watched her decant the kabire into my plastic "feeding bottle." It glowed warm and yellow in the dull light. Though she still appeared drunk from last night's party, her hands were so steady that her large tinsel Ex-mas bangles, a gift from a church Ex-mas party, did not even sway. When she had poured enough, she cut the flow of the glue by tilting the tin up. The last stream of the gum entering the bottle weakened and braided itself before tapering in midair like an icicle. She covered the plastic with her palm, to retain the glue's power. Sniffing it would kill my hunger in case Maisha did not return with an Ex-mas feast for us."
Everyone who read for this month's book club meeting agreed that this was like no other book they had ever read. Where one would expect repulsion, one cannot turn away. Where one would expect to pity, one finds oneself celebrating the uniqueness and spirit of these young voices whose depictions both resist the trite and challenge our assumptions. Highly recommended. And I want you to read it. We had four leftover books from the copies so kindly provided by Hachette. First four people to email me (address at my upper left sidebar) with your shipping address will receive a copy.