Friday, August 15, 2008

Say You're One of Them

Child prostitution in Kenya, genocide in Rwanda, child slavery in Gabon. Uwem Akpan does not shy away from heartbreaking reality in his short story collection Say You’re One of Them.

Akpan, originally from Nigeria, is a talented and innovative writer, but his subject matter is not for the weak-of-heart or those who enjoy living with the delusion that life for a majority of the world’s population is pleasant. Akpan writes from the perspective of children, which makes the book all the more difficult to bear.

Two strong stories begin and end One of Them: “An Ex-mas Feast” and “My Parents’ Bedroom.” In the former, Kenyan parents take horrific advantage of their children—a 12-year-old daughter supports them through prostitution. The latter takes place during the Rwandan genocide. Children with both a Hutu and a Tutsi parent watch their own relatives attack their family.

Akpan reveals the darkest aspects of humanity, but he also contrasts adult greed with the purity of children. Clearly, people are not born evil; they are made that way. In “What Language is That?,” surprisingly written in second-person, two six-year-olds in Ethiopia are barred from each other because of their parents’ religious differences. The children cannot process such divisions and secretly maintain contact with each other.

Reading these stories is both difficult and a pleasure. Akpan brings an exciting perspective to English-language literature and is an excellent advocate for Africa’s children.

1 comment:

notaconnoisseur said...

The only way that I can deal with the pain and tragedy that befalls so many children is to believe that Matt 18:6 is true. I want justice for the children - "But whoso shall offend one of those little ones..., it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."