Be omnivorous, don't just read one kind of book, read everything. - Richard Wagamese

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: Say You're One of Them by Uwen Akpan

Publisher:Bay Back Books
Source: Personal Copy

'Say You're One Of Them' is a collection of five short stories written from a child's perspective about life in Africa. These children face poverty, genocide, religious conflicts and unimaginable atrocities. This is not a book of hope, it's a book that will keep your mind wandering. Through the five stories we see how these children loose their purity. Children's lives are guided by their living situation. Imagine being a 12 year old prostitute and your parents are happy that you have 'white' clients because your salary funds your brothers education. Imagine living with your uncle, while he is trying to sell you and your sister to the highest bidder, to raise his status in the Church. These stories are not for the light-hearted. Although, I really enjoyed the collection of short stories. However, I must admit I did find the dialogues difficult to follow. Some stories I wished were a little shorter. 

'An Ex-Mas Feast' 

This is the first story in the collection. We are introduced to a destitute family living in a make-shift shanty. Maisha is a 12 year old prostitute and her family encourages her 'profession' in order to fund her brothers education. Maisha's relationship with her parents is strained, and she is constantly quarrelling with them. She's not only the breadwinner in the home, she seems to be the only adult. In this story we see the destruction of the family. When Maisha decides she no longer wants to be in the home, her brother decides he no longer wants to go to school much to his parents dismay. 

'Fattening For Gabon' 

The second story in the collection is as shocking as the first. We begin the novel learning the Uncle is trying to sell his nephew and niece. The children are forced to live with their Uncle while their parents are living with AIDS. The children are introduced to their 'godparents' who they are told are paying for their parents medicine and giving them many gifts. The children enjoy the attention, and enjoy the luxurious meals at first. They are oblivious to their Uncle's intentions. When they being to notice his unusual behaviour they being to question their godparents acts. 

'What Language Is That?' 

This is the third story and incredible short. Two best friends wake up one morning and are told by their parents that they can no longer speak to each other due to religious conflicts. Although, the parents are trying to protect the children we see the impact this has on them. 

'Luxurious Hearses.' 

Jubril is a young sixteen year old Muslim who was born to a Christian father and Muslim mother. His brother adopted the Christian faith and was eventually stoned in front of him. While the violent in his area had escalated Jubril feels he must escape. Jubril's only hope is to escape on a bus full of Christians. He hides his right hand being cut off, his name and his Muslim ideas. He is afraid of women and television, but must try to come to terms with them on the bus. 

'My Parents Bedroom' 

This is the last story in the collection. This story really affected me. The children in the story have a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother. The parents are forced to choose between the tribes, this results in the children witnessing their mothers death at the hands of their father. 

In conclusion, I really enjoyed the book. These stories remain with the reader long after you've closed the pages. An eye-opening read. 


  1. I think this is an important book, but like you had trouble following the dialogue in parts.

  2. I don't think I would be able to read this one, but I agree with bermudaonion that it's an important book.

  3. This sounds like an incredible collections of short stories. Poignant for its view point since children see things for what they are without any preconceived notions. It's only after life experiences that they lose the "purity of souls". Each story you described made me wonder how different our lives are.

    Another one to add to my TBR list. Great synopsis & review.

  4. Believe it or not, I read this when my Not-So-Bebe-Girl Autumn brought it in from school a few years ago and said, "Mom, you have to read this". I enjoyed it as well. She also has a spoken word piece titled "Vipers" about a child soldier.