Dave's Reviews > Say You're One of Them

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
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's review
Jul 05, 2008

it was amazing

Stories of abused and battered children in Africa are legion, but few cut as close to the bone as this collection by Uwem Akpan. His five tales, two of which are novella length, are told with the uninhibited, truth-filled voices of the children involved. Each one takes place in a different country but the theme is universal: the biggest challenge faced by children in Africa is staying alive.

Akpan, a Jesuit priest with an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, piles on details available only to one intimately familiar with the lives described. Be forewarned: some of those details are gruesome to the point of causing distress, which I am sure was his intent. The imagery can range from the droll, like the description of the motorbike loaded with five people, various fruits and vegetables, a rooster and five rolls of toilet paper in “Fattening for Gabon,” to the most horrific sight a child can see, a parental bloodbath, in “My Parents’ Bedroom.” This story ends the book and is the source of the title “Say you’re one of them,” the command given by a desperate Rwandan Tutsi mother to her Hutu-fathered child as machete-wielding killers approach.

Various dialects are used masterfully to both reveal characters and set scenes. The jargon, slang, and foreign phrases may be off-putting to some readers, but little meaning is lost when the dialogue is read in full context. Quite frankly, the only time many readers can bear to imagine events like those in the book is when they take place on foreign shores. We can be sickened and outraged by horrors on another continent; the same happenings across the street from where we live would paralyze us with fright. Fortunately, Akpan’s familiarity with African poetry infuses much of the writing, giving the book a lyrical tone that keeps the more violent passages from slipping into slasher-movie territory.

As a person who has photographed and written about Africa extensively, I must confess I was not shocked by Akpan’s stories. Unfortunately, tales like them are all too familiar to me. I was deeply moved by his dramatic intensity, however, and highly appreciative of his ability to put the reader inside the children’s lives.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 5, 2008 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Petra X There is another review, identical to your's apart from not including the last paragraph. I've seen your review all over the web and your review predates his by three months so obviously yours is the original. Shame the person wanted to take the credit themselves.


Dave Thank you for your observant reading and support.

message 3: by Victor (new)

Victor Muthoka This boom was suggested to me today. Your review's sealed the deal for me. Very poignantly written.

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