Say You're One of Them
Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (6/8/2008)
Digital Audiobook (6/8/2008)
Digital Audiobook (6/8/2008)
Digital Audiobook (6/8/2008)
Compact Disc (11/1/2009)
MP3 CD (11/1/2009)
, Large Print, Large Print (7/1/2008)
August 2008 Indie Next List
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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 inside Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia, revealing in beautiful prose the harsh consequences for children of life in Africa.
Akpan's voice is a literary miracle, rendering lives of almost unimaginable deprivation and terror into stories that are nothing shortof transcendent.
Praise For Say You're One of Them…
"Uwem Akpan's searing Say You're One of Them captures a ravaged Africa through the dry-eyed gaze of children trying to maintain a sense of normalcy amid chaos."—Megan O'Grady, Vogue
"Akpan wants you to see and feel Africa, its glory and its pain. And you do, which makes this an extraordinary book."—Vince Passaro, O Magazine
"Uwem Akpan's stunning short story collection, Say You're One of Them, offers a richer, more nuanced view of Africa than the one we often see on the news....Akpan never lets us forget that the resilient youngsters caught up in these extraordinary circumstances are filled with their own hopes and dreams, even as he assuredly illuminates the harsh realities."—Patrik Henry Bass, Essence
"In the corrupt, war-ravaged Africa of this starkly beautiful debut collection, identity is shifting, never to be trusted...Akpan's people, and the dreamlike horror of the worlds they reveal, are impossible to forget."—Kim Hubbard, People
"From the bowels of the most impoverished, war-ravaged continent comes this strong, brave offering from Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest. What better lens to view this landscape than through the eyes of children--siblings about to be sold into slavery by their uncle, a Muslim boy trying to pass as a Christian on a bus traversing a religious war. No news report or documentary evokes the desperate straits of the African people so keenly. Like Isaac Babel's Red Calvary stories and Michael Herr's Dispatches, Say You're One of Them has invented a new language-both for horror and the relentless persistence of light in war-torn countries. I can't shake this book, and shouldn't."—Mary Karr, author of The Liars' Club, -
"Say You're One of Them is a beautiful, bitter, compelling read. The savagely strange juxtapositions in these stories are grounded by the loving relationships between brothers and sisters forced to survive in a world of dreamlike horror. Open the book at any page, as in divination, and a stunning sentence will leap out. Newspaper facts are molded by Akpan's sure touch into fictional works of great power."—Louise Erdrich, author of Love Medicine and The Plague of Doves, -
"Say You're One of Them is one of those collections that drops the reader into the midst of wonderfully rendered worlds, and compellingly so. I hope it finds the wide readership it merits."—Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, -
"Say You're One of Them is astonishing, triumphantly unique. The stories flow with an eerie Chekhovian ease and understatement-the horrors are evoked with a matter-of-factness that is devastating, and the characters' memories and inner lives are always more real than the appalling events occurring around them. Uwem Akpan has moral greatness--you can never again put out of your mind what he has taken you firmly by the hand to get a close look at. The startling newness of his language gives us no choice but to listen."—Franz Wright, author of Walking to Martha's Vineyard, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, -
"Uwem Akpan's stories are extraordinary not just for the sheer power of their narratives and the sympathy and affection he lavishes on his child protagonists, but also for their importance in communicating the chaotic, strife-ridden world of Africa today. What an original, graceful, and necessary talent Akpan is!" —Ron Hansen, author of Mariette in Ecstasy, -
"Say You're One of Them is not only good advice for surviving ethnic conflict; it's also, in Uwem Akpan's hands, an exercise in empathetic speculation--an exercise that, in this collection's case, seems nearly sacramental in the sobriety and miraculousness of its reach. Repeatedly these stories quietly enable us to imagine the unimaginable, and offer up to our view the unspeakable rendered with clarity and grace."—Jim Shepard, author of Like You'd Understand, Anyway, National Book Award Finalist, 2007, and winner of the Story Prize, 2008, -
"Say You're One of Them gives voice to Africa's children in beautifully crafted prose and stunning detail. Uwem Akpan is a major new literary talent." —Peter Godwin, author of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, -
"Here is a truly unforgettable book. Say You're One of Them is an important, well-crafted, and ultimately devastating collection, and Akpan is a writer of rare gifts and deeply humane vision. I can't recommend these stories more highly."—Peter Orner, author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, -
"All the promise and heartbreak of Africa today are brilliantly illuminated in this debut collection..."—John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"With this heart-stopping collection, which includes the New Yorker piece, "An Ex-Mas Feast," that marked Akpan as a breakout talent, the Nigerian-born Jesuit priest relentlessly personalizes the unstable social conditions of sub-Saharan Africa.... The stories are lifted above consciousness-raising shockers by Akpan's sure characterizations, understated details, and culturally specific dialect."—Jennifer Mattson, Booklist
"...a tour de force that takes readers into the lives glimpsed in passing on the evening news...These are stories that could have been mired in sentimentality. But the spare, straightforward language--there are few overtly expressed emotions, few adjectives--keeps the narratives moving, unencumbered and the pages turning to the end."—Associated Press
"This fierce story collection from a Nigerian-born Jesuit priest brings home Africa's most haunting tragedies in tales that take you from the streets of Nairobi to the Hutu-Tutsi genocide."—Margo Hammond & Ellen Heltzel, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Say You're One of Them is a book that belongs on every shelf."—Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
Back Bay Books, 9780316086370, 384pp.
Publication Date: September 18, 2009
About the Author
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.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Each of the stories in Say You’re One of Them is told from the perspective of a child. Do you think this affected your reaction? If the narrators had been adults, might you have felt differently about the stories? Why do you think Akpan chose to depict these events through children’s eyes? How do Akpan’s young characters maintain innocence in the face of corruption and pain?
- In "An Ex-mas Feast," Maisha leaves her family to become a full-time prostitute. Do you think she chose to depart, or did her family’s poverty force her to flee? Is it possible to have complete freedom of will in such a situation? Is it reasonable to judge a person for her actions if her choice is not entirely her own?
- In "Fattening for Gabon" the children’s uncle and caretaker, Fofo Kpee, sells them into slavery. How does Fofo’s poverty and vanity contribute to his unthinkable actions? Do his pangs of conscience redeem him for you? Why or why not?
- In "What Language is That," Hadiya and Selam are kept apart by their parents after the escalation of religious conflict. Have you ever experienced a situation in which friends and family have objected to someone in your life for reasons you didn’t understand? What did you do? How did you feel?
- The bus in "Luxurious Hearses" is a microcosm not only of African hierarchies and religions but also of the continent’s numerous languages and dialects. Discuss how speech is related to class, culture, religion, and heritage. How does dialogue function in the other stories? Do we hold similar attitudes about language in our own culture? What are some examples?
- This book takes its title from instructions given to a Rwandan girl by her mother in "My Parents’ Bedroom." Did the familiar domestic detail in this story—Maman’s perfume, little Jean’s flannel pajamas, toys like Mickey Mouse in the children’s room—intensify for you the horror of what ensued? Is there comparable detail in any of the other stories that helped you to identify with Uwem Akpan’s characters?
- Although the stories in Say You’re One of Them are fictitious, the situations they depict have a basis in reality. How do the emotions you feel when reading these stories compare to your emotions when reading accounts in the news media of similar atrocities? Has reading Say You’re One of Them changed the way you think about these issues?
- Uwem Akpan addressed his other vocation in an interview, saying, "A key Vatican II document makes it very clear that the joys and anguish of the world are the joys and anguish of the Church." While reading these stories, were you ever reminded that this writer is also a Jesuit priest? Does Akpan’s subject matter seem to you to be imbued with religious values? In what ways? Do the drama and power of the Akpan’s fiction call forth any biblical stories for you? If so, which ones?
- Some of the children in Say You’re One of Them are not poor. What are the particular obstacles these children face that are not issues in your own country? Are there challenges other than poverty with which you can identify? Do the family dynamics feel familiar to you?
- The poet and memoirist Mary Karr wrote that Uwem Akpan "has invented a new language—both for horror and for the relentless persistence of light in war-torn countries." Did you find any beauty or goodness in these tragic tales? If so, offer some examples.