Say You’re One of Them, by Uwem Akpan

Say You’re One of Them was the May read for Books, Brew, and Banter.  Written by Uwem Akpan, published in 2008, chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club Selection in 2009, it shows daily life in turbulent, war-torn, Africa.

In five short stories, all set in different parts of Africa, Akpan, an African Jesuit priest educated in America, shows us life through the eyes of African children. In “An Ex-mas Feast,” Akpan pours out Nairobian poverty on the page so vividly that it takes a reader’s breath away.  In “In My Parents’ Bedroom,” he shows us a loving, educated, enlightened Rwandan family ripped apart by tribalism.  In “Luxurious Hearses,” he narrates the ultimate sacrifice of a teenage boy to the bloodlust of people running for their lives in western Africa.

It’s a difficult book to read.  Because of the content, sometimes continuing to turn the pages is an effort.  And because Akpan sprinkles the stories generously with the mélange of languages spoken in Africa, parsing the meaning of what people are saying can be hard too.  But on those difficult-to-turn-and-understand pages, Akpan always splashes a generous measure of the best of humanity:  love, loyalty, responsibility, empathy, self-sacrifice, and faith.

In these stories of children’s lives, general themes emerge:  the variety of religions and languages in Africa, the power of faith, the role of the media, the relationship between men and women, the struggle of families to stay together, the driving force of the sex trade, the relentless force of tribalism, and always the plight of the children.

Deacon Jeanie Smith described the book as “beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking” – as the kind of book a person can’t just read.  Afterward, there’s the need to do something.

—Sharelle Moranville

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