Hachette Book Group USA has put out another book that I fell in love with. (The first set of books from Hachette that caught my attention were those by Stephenie Meyer. I was thrilled to learn that Twilight is being made into a movie set to open on December 12, 2008!) This latest book, Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, was a more difficult read, though a call to action that is timely and necessary. The book is a collection of 5 short stories by Akpan, a Jesuit priest originally from Nigeria who is now living and teaching in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Akpan's is certainly not the first set of stories to chronicle the trouble life of people across Africa. What is unique about the collection is that it is told entirely from the perspective of children. Because of their resiliency, children are able to see the light and dark, simultaneously, in many situations where adults see only one aspect or the other. Children are on a quest for joy, for resolution, and most certainly for peace. As Frank McCourt said in the trilogy of books about his own life, children keep moving forward because it's the only thing they know how to do. Akpan's characters embrace that philosophy and take us along with them for the journey.
To be sure, the circumstances are horrifying - tribal wars, destruction, rape, poverty, starvation. I sometimes had to put the book down because each page is so densely packed with raw emotion and brutally honest storytelling. There is no sugar-coating here. What kept me coming back and reading late into the night was Akpan's intensely visual story telling that has us bear witness to what's happening in countries all across Africa. We are unable to turn away as we make our way through the book and we feel compelled, even obligated, to do something, to say something, to change something. Through literature, he found his voice while also giving a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves.
Say You're One of Them was recently reviewed in USA Today. And today, there is a front page article in USA Today on Americans who are finding purpose in Africa.