Let me start with saying that this novel won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book in Africa 2009. Therefore, it is part of my Commonwealth reading challenge. Please click here for more info. "Say You're One of Them" consist of five independent stories, two of which actually a novella, told from the perspective of African children.
First Story An EX-mas Feast (Kenya) is a short story told from the voice of a very young boy whose poverty-stricken family lived in a slum in Kenya. His eldest sister, only twelve, had to work in the street in order to provide for herself and the rest of her family.
Fattening for Gabon (Benin), one of the novellas, also by a child who narrated on the experience of his uncle's intentions of trafficking with them. Hence, began the brainwashing for the Gabon trip. However, as events unfolded, the whole plan kind of fell to the ground. I found it quite long before I realised it was not a typical short story but a novella then I began to understand.
What Language Is That? (Ethiopia), is the story of two girls who were respectively a Christian and a Muslim. Though, it was no deterrent for them to become best of friends. However, after a religious conflict in their neighbourhood, their parents began being sceptical of their seeing each other. But what can they do to avoid it?
Luxurious Hearses (Nigeria), one of my favourites. It is the never-ending story of the religious crisis that afflicts the country. Jubril was born a catholic but he grew up into a radical Muslim with his mother in the North of Nigeria. All the same, he was never found committed enough to the religion because he was baptised at birth in the South. In order to prove his loyalty and devotion to the Islamic religion he had to offer his hand to be cut off as sign of acceptance of the sharia law. Nevertheless, when the religious crisis erupted, it was still not enough; therefore, he had to flee with the southern Christian refugees to the South. There again, in order to survive the long trip among angry Christians in a bus, he had to act as one of them. Quite interesting and thought provoking.
Lastly, My Parents Bedroom (Rwanda), was the short story shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2007. Set in Rwanda civil war. The voice of a nine year old girl, whose parents were respectively a Hutu and a Tutsi, narrates her plight during the genocide among the two ethnic groups. How do children know which sides to take in a war like this? Quite a disturbing read.
In my opinion, this novel is not for the faint-hearted. However, it goes without saying that Uwem Akpan is an incredible creative writer who writes beautifully. I recommend.