Thursday, February 17, 2011

REVIEW: Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan (audiobook)


Uwem Akpan's stunning stories humanize the perils of poverty and violence so piercingly that few readers will feel they've ever encountered Africa so immediately. The eight-year-old narrator of "An Ex-Mas Feast" needs only enough money to buy books and pay fees in order to attend school. Even when his twelve-year-old sister takes to the streets to raise these meager funds, his dream can't be granted. Food comes first. His family lives in a street shanty in Nairobi, Kenya, but their way of both loving and taking advantage of each other strikes a universal chord. 

In the second of his stories published in a New Yorker special fiction issue, Akpan takes us far beyond what we thought we knew about the tribal conflict in Rwanda. The story is told by a young girl, who, with her little brother, witnesses the worst possible scenario between parents. They are asked to do the previously unimaginable in order to protect their children. This singular collection will also take the reader...

About the Author

Uwem 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.

My Thoughts

This was a very brief audiobook, being only 3 CDs long, with one story per CD. Of course, it does say "Unabridged Selections: 3 Stories on 3 CDs read by Robin Miles and Dion Graham". So it seems that this is not the complete book, but only 3 of the stories from the book.

The first story was the most powerful, told from the perspective of a young girl in Rwanda living through the genocidal slaughter of the Tutsi by Hutu members- a slaughter that turned family members and friends and neighbors against one another. This story drew me in, and the characters came alive for me. I loved this story, in a tragic and broken and heart-wrenching sort of way.

The second CD contained the story of a destitute Kenyan family living in shanty town, trying to gather presents for "X-Mas" (it was odd hearing them continually calling it "X-Mas" and never "Christmas"). This was my least favorite of the three stories.

The final CD consisted of the story of two young girls, best friends for years, torn apart by the religious differences of their parents. The third CD ends with an interview with the good-natured author.

These stories were brought to life by two narrators with authentic African accents, breathing life into the characters. As I've said before, I loved the first story, and loved the narration.

This was a quick audiobook, allowing me to listen through it in just a few hours, even though I had my attention towards the book continually interrupted by my workday. If all of the stories had been as good as the first one, this book would have been fantastic, and perhaps in its entirety it would be that fantastic. But as it was the book, with only these three stories, was just "okay". It had its moments.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

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