Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Say You're One Of Them by: Uwem Akpan

It's hard to give a synopsis for short story collections, so I'm just going to go through each story, give a brief background on it, and say what I did and didn't like.

The first story of the collection is "An Ex-mas Feast" which is about an eight year old boy (the narrator) whose sister starts working the streets to pay to fund his schooling and such. I think it was a good way to open the story, because it eases the reader into the cultural differences better than any of the other stories might have. It's definitely a touchy subject, seeing as how his twelve-year-old sister is prostituting herself to take care of the family and her brother, but it's not as graphic or mind jarring as the rest of the collection is. The story was okay. A good opener but not my favorite.

"Fattening For Gabon" is the next in line. It's a novella that just seems to go on forever. There were so many times I just wanted to quit reading it, but I made it to the end. (I saved the novellas for last, which was a good thing.) The writing was dry, the whole story seemed to drag, and the ending was kind of anti-climatic for me. The main subject was about an uncle trying to save his niece and nephew from slavery, which is a horrible, very powerful subject, but I just didn't enjoy the story. The chopped language really broke me from the flow of the story all the time. I understood the French, but the other language just went completely over my head, and it's used throughout the collection, so I was constantly being pulled from the story, trying to figure out what it might mean. I really wanted to like the story, but it was probably the one I disliked the most.

"What Language Is This?" followed, and this one was a short story about two friends (one of them being "you") who are told they can't be friends anymore because one is Christian and one is Muslim, and these two religious groups got into it and just were completely at war with each other. It was a good story, I really liked it. I liked seeing these two young friends trying to understand what was happening to them, it was really realistic and offered an interesting point of view. It was another story that used the POV of "you" well.

"Luxurious Hearses" is another novella about a sixteen-year-old boy named Jubril who is traveling from North Nigeria to South Nigeria because of the religious conflict between Muslims and Christians (he's both). It also dragged in times, and I felt some of it was confusing and just went right over my head at first. I'd have to put the book down and ponder it or reread the passage to get it. I liked the main story line of this boy trying to figure out who he is in this really huge, horrible war of sorts going on. There was a lot of violence in the novel and it's culturally jarring. I liked that about the story, it really immersed me in this different culture.  But it had dry writing, too, and had the confusing language that sometimes pulled me from the story. But it was easier for me to read than "Fattening For Gabon."

The last story in the collection is "My Parents' Bedroom." I think that story was the most emotional of the pieces. I read it and was just shocked at what was happening. It was my favorite of the collection, I really liked it. Definitely violent, so not for the light of heart. But it definitely helps the reader see just exactly what some of these people went through and how very horrible it was. And I think it was the best style wise.

So, overall, this collection disappointed me a bit more than the others I checked out. Sometimes it was hard for me to relate to the characters, which wasn't the case in the other two collections I read. And Akpan's writing definitely doesn't flow as well as theirs does. I just don't think the collection had the heart like the others did. It was more techincal, very distant. It was like seeing these horrible things on the news and not being directly immersed in them. Which, he's from Nigeria so I can understand why he might distance himself a bit, because I don't know what he saw or went through.  But I think "My Parents' Bedroom" was a gem of a story and worth reading.

My Rating: 5/10

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