Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan, copyright 2008.
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: The Hype!
Say You’re One of Them was one of those books that received a lot of hype, especially after it was picked by Oprah as one of her book club selections in 2009. Even before that though, when the book was first published in 2008, I kept seeing it prominently displayed in nearly every bookshop I frequented in Canada. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, I reasoned that it must be a great read. Earlier this year, while perusing online, I broke down and bought it without even reading the blurb. When, oh when, will I learn?
Uwem Akpan makes his debut with this collection of five short stories set across the African continent, from Kenya to Nigeria. One of the main themes of each story is the desperation engendered by the heinous poverty that torments Africans, especially its children, on a daily basis.
At age twelve, Maisha is the primary breadwinner for her family; while her siblings beg in the markets of urban Kenya, Maisha works the streets, desperate to earn the fees to send her brother to school. Kotchikpa and Yewa are siblings living in Nigeria with their Uncle Kpee, who has just brought home a brand new motorcycle. The children are enamored by the family’s new wheels, excited to see their status in the community raised as a result of its presence, until it becomes clear that their Uncle has received the motorbike in exchange for the children themselves.
I can’t fault this collection in any way; the stories themselves were really quite remarkable. They are all well written and give, I think, some fantastic portrayals of the realities of poverty in Africa. Neither was it an issue for me to establish an emotional connection with the characters. Why then, you ask, did I only manage to finish three of the five stories in this book? In the end, it was my overwhelming distaste for short stories that put the final nail in the coffin. For me, reading short stories takes a great deal of patience. I am always disappointed when a really enjoyable story comes to a premature end and I am, once again, faced with the frustration of getting to know an entirely new cast of characters , only for them too to disappear as soon as I have begun to care about them.
Its not that I can’t get through any collection of short stories, I can and I have. This, however, was not a collection for me. While the stories that I read were enjoyable enough, they were not of such a caliber that they were able to precipitate the patience I required to get through the entire collection. While they were not for me, I have no doubt that you may very well enjoy these stories.