Say You're One of Them

Say You're One of Them

3.2 185
by Uwem Akpan
     
 

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Each story in this jubilantly acclaimed collection pays testament to the wisdom and resilience of children, even in the face of the most agonizing circumstances.

A family living in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya scurries to find gifts of any kind for the impending Christmas holiday. A Rwandan girl relates her family's struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy

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Overview

Each story in this jubilantly acclaimed collection pays testament to the wisdom and resilience of children, even in the face of the most agonizing circumstances.

A family living in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya scurries to find gifts of any kind for the impending Christmas holiday. A Rwandan girl relates her family's struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy amid unspeakable acts. A young brother and sister cope with their uncle's attempt to sell them into slavery. Aboard a bus filled with refugees-a microcosm of today's Africa-a Muslim boy summons his faith to bear a treacherous ride across Nigeria. Through the eyes of childhood friends the emotional toll of religious conflict in Ethiopia becomes viscerally clear.

Uwem Akpan's debut signals the arrival of a breathtakingly talented writer who gives a matter-of-fact reality to the most extreme circumstances in stories that are nothing short of transcendent.

Editorial Reviews

The Village Voice
"African writer and Jesuit priest Uwem Akpan depicts the plight of African children with the kind of restraint only possible when an author fully inhabits his characters-he manages to be empathetic without being condescending."
Craig Seligman
Akpan has the largeness of soul to make his vision of the terrible transcendent. Beside [his stories], other fiction seems to dry up and blow away like dust.
Bloomberg News
Jennifer Mattson
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.
Booklist
Janet Maslin - New York Times
"[A] startling debut collection... Akpan is not striving for surreal effects. He is summoning miseries that are real.... He fuses a knowledge of African poverty and strife with a conspicuously literary approach to storytelling filtering tales of horror through the wide eyes of the young."
author of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun Peter Godwin
"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."
author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo Peter Orner
"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."
Jennifer Mattson - Booklist
"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."
author of Love Medicine and The Plague of Doves Louise Erdrich
"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."
author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love Oscar Hijuelos
"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."

author of The Liars' Club Mary Karr
"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."
author of GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames Chris Abani
"Uwem Akpan writes with a political fierceness and a humanity so full of compassion it might just change the world. His is a burning talent."
Jim Shepard
"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."
Franz Wright
"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."
author of Mariette in Ecstasy Ron Hansen
"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!"
Janet Maslin
…[a] startling debut collection…[Akpan] fuses a knowledge of African poverty and strife with a conspicuously literary approach to storytelling, filtering tales of horror through the wide eyes of the young. In each of the tales in Say You're One of Them a protagonist's childlike innocence is ultimately savaged by the facts of African life.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This brilliant collection of short stories by Nigerian-born Akpan invites listeners into a world of beauty and heartbreak where young people in the throes of adolescence struggle to survive harrowing violence and tragedy. Miles and the remarkable Graham meet the prose with their own intensity and bring flourishes to the realistic, empathetic characters. Graham is a true stand-out: he inhabits each character fully, aces accents, and excels at conveying an understated melancholy. A thrilling work of art. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Oct.)
School Library Journal

Adult/High School

With the intensity of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Say You're One of Them tells of the horrors faced by young people throughout Africa. Akpan uses five short stories (though at well over 100 pages, both "Luxurious Hearses" and "Fattening for Gabon" are nearly stand-alone novels in their own right) to bring to light topics ranging from selling children in Gabon to the Muslim vs. Christian battles in Ethiopia. The characters face choices that most American high school students will never have to-whether or not to prostitute oneself to provide money for one's homeless family, whether to save oneself, even if it means sacrificing a beloved sibling in the process. The selections are peppered with a mix of English, French, and a variety of African tongues, and some teens may find themselves reading at a slower pace than usual, but the impact of the stories is well worth the effort. The collection offers a multitude of learning opportunities and would be well suited for "Authors not born in the United States" reading and writing assignments. Teens looking for a more upbeat, but still powerful, story may prefer Bryce Courtenay's The Power of One (Random, 1989).-Sarah Krygier, Solano County Library, Fairfield, CA

Kirkus Reviews
Redemption is in short supply in these five stories by a Nigerian priest about children caught in the crossfire of various African countries' upheavals. The opener of this debut collection, "An Ex-mas Feast," is one of the more upbeat entries-which isn't saying much, since its eight-year-old narrator describes sniffing shoe glue to ward off hunger in a Nairobi shanty town while his 12-year-old sister proudly moves from street prostitution to a brothel. In "Fattening for Gabon," a morbid variation on Hansel and Gretel, an uncle literally fattens up his nephew and niece to sell them into slavery. Although he genuinely loves them, his repentance comes too late and with not-unexpected tragic results. The least arresting story is the slight and familiar "What Language Is That?" Their families profess liberal, inclusive attitudes, but a Christian child and her Muslim best friend are prohibited from communicating when rioting breaks out in Addis Ababa, although the girls do find, perhaps briefly, "a new language." That miniscule glimmer of hope for humanity disappears in "Luxurious Hearses," an emotionally exhausting encapsulation of the devastation caused by religion. Baptized as an infant by his Catholic father, raised in a strict Muslim community by his mother, adolescent Jubril is targeted by extremists who happen to be his former playmates. Fleeing religious riots in northern Nigeria on a luxury bus full of Christians, he keeps his right wrist in his pocket; if they see that his hand has been amputated (for stealing, under Sharia law), they will know he is Muslim. Jubril comes close to finding acceptance among his fellow passengers, which only makes their ultimate violence against him thatmuch more disturbing. The final story, "My Parents' Bedroom," goes beyond disturbing toward unbearable as the children of a Tutsi mother and Hutu father in Rwanda witness the unspeakable acts their decent parents are forced to commit. Haunting prose. Unrelenting horror. An almost unreadable must-read. Agent: Maria Massie/Lippincott Massie McQuilkin
Maureen Corrigan - NPR's "Fresh Air"
"Akpan's brilliance is to present a brutal subject through the bewildered, resolutely chipper voice of children...All five of these stories are electrifying."
From the Publisher
"Awe is the only appropriate response to Uwem Akpan's stunning debut, Say You're One of Them, a collection of five stories so ravishing and sad that I regret ever wasting superlatives on fiction that was merely very good. A."—Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly (EW Pick / Grade A)"

[A] startling debut collection... Akpan is not striving for surreal effects. He is summoning miseries that are real.... He fuses a knowledge of African poverty and strife with a conspicuously literary approach to storytelling filtering tales of horror through the wide eyes of the young."—Janet Maslin, The New York Times"

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"

The humor, the endurance, the horrors and grace-Akpan has captured all of it.... The stories are not only amazing and moving, and imbued with a powerful moral courage-they are also surprisingly expert.... Beautifully constructed, stately in a way that offsets their impoverished scenarios. 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, a Nigerian Jesuit priest, has said he was inspired to write by the 'humor and endurance of the poor,' and his debut story collection...about the gritty lives of African children - speaks to the fearsome, illuminating truth of that impulse."—Lisa Shea, Elle"

Haunting prose.... A must-read."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"

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"

All the promise and heartbreak of Africa today are brilliantly illuminated in this debut collection..."—John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer"

Akpan's brilliance is to present a brutal subject through the bewildered, resolutely chipper voice of children...All five of these stories are electrifying."—Maureen Corrigan, NPR's "Fresh Air""

...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"

brilliant...an extraordinary portrait of modern Africa... [Akpan]... is an important and gifted writer who should be read."—Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY"

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"

Akpan combines the strengths of both fiction and journalism - the dramatic potential of the one and the urgency of the other - to create a work of immense power...He is a gifted storyteller capable of bringing to life myriad characters and points of view...the result is admirable, artistically as well as morally."—Adelle Waldman, Christian Science Monitor"

It is not merely the subject that makes Akpan's...writing so astonishing, translucent, and horrifying all at once; it is his talent with metaphor and imagery, his immersion into character and place....Uwem Akpan has given these children their voices, and for the compassion and art in his stories I am grateful and changed."—Susan Straight, Washington Post Book World (front page review)"

Say You're One of Them is a book that belongs on every shelf."—Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News"

Searing...In the end, the most enduring image of these disturbing, beautiful and hopeful stories is that of slipping away. Children disappear into the anonymous blur of the big city or into the darkness of the all-encompassing bush. One can only hope that they survive to live another day and tell another tale."—June Sawyers, San Francisco Chronicle"

These stories are complex, full of respect for the characters facing depravity, free of sensationalizing or glib judgments. They are dispatches from a journey, Akpan makes clear, which has only begun. It is to their credit that grim as they are-you cannot but hope these tales have a sequel."—John Freeman, Cleveland Plain-Dealer"

An important literary debut.... Juxtaposed against the clarity and revelation in Akpan's prose-as translucent a style as I've read in a long while—we find subjects that nearly render the mind helpless and throw the heart into a hopeless erratic rhythm out of fear, out of pity, out of the shame of being only a few degrees of separation removed from these monstrous modern circumstances...The reader discovers that no hiding place is good enough with these stories battering at your mind and heart."—Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune"

A stupefyingly talented young Nigerian priest. Akpan never flinches from his difficult subjects—poverty, slavery, mass murder—but he has the largeness of soul to make his vision of the terrible transcendent."—Jeffrey Burke and Craig Seligman, Bloomberg News"

Any of the six stories in this collection set in Africa is enough to break a reader's heart. Two are novella length, including a tour de force, 'Luxurious Hearses,' which takes place on a crowded bus."—From citation by Larry Dark for SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM, a Notable Book finalist for The Story Prize."

Robin Miles adopts a lovely French-African accent, and if she allows Akpan's beautiful turns of phrase to shine, the underlying tension and fear are also never far from the surface. Miles also narrates "What Language Is That?" This story is partially unaccented, a choice that accentuates the second-person point of view...Dion Graham, in Kenyan-accented English, successfully embodies the family's mother and father, teenaged daughter, and young son"—AudioFile, Publishers Weekly

Associated Press Staff
"...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."
Jennifer Reese
Awe is the only appropriate response to Uwem Akpan's stunning debut, Say You're One of Them, a collection of five stories so ravishing and sad that I regret ever wasting superlatives on fiction that was merely very good. A.
Entertainment Weekly (EW Pick / Grade A)
Megan O'Grady
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.
Vogue
Vince Passaro
The humor, the endurance, the horrors and grace-Akpan has captured all of it.... The stories are not only amazing and moving, and imbued with a powerful moral courage-they are also surprisingly expert.... Beautifully constructed, stately in a way that offsets their impoverished scenarios. Akpan wants you to see and feel Africa, its glory and its pain. And you do, which makes this an extraordinary book.
O Magazine
Lisa Shea
Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian Jesuit priest, has said he was inspired to write by the 'humor and endurance of the poor,' and his debut story collection...about the gritty lives of African children - speaks to the fearsome, illuminating truth of that impulse.
Elle
Patrik Henry Bass
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.
Essence
Kim Hubbard
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.
People
John Marshall
All the promise and heartbreak of Africa today are brilliantly illuminated in this debut collection...
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Maureen Corrigan
Akpan's brilliance is to present a brutal subject through the bewildered, resolutely chipper voice of children...All five of these stories are electrifying.
NPR's "Fresh Air"
Deirdre Donahue
brilliant...an extraordinary portrait of modern Africa... [Akpan]... is an important and gifted writer who should be read.
USA Today
Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzel
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.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Adelle Waldman
Akpan combines the strengths of both fiction and journalism - the dramatic potential of the one and the urgency of the other - to create a work of immense power...He is a gifted storyteller capable of bringing to life myriad characters and points of view...the result is admirable, artistically as well as morally.
Christian Science Monitor
Susan Straight
It is not merely the subject that makes Akpan's...writing so astonishing, translucent, and horrifying all at once; it is his talent with metaphor and imagery, his immersion into character and place....Uwem Akpan has given these children their voices, and for the compassion and art in his stories I am grateful and changed.
Washington Post Book World (front page review)
Sherryl Connelly
Say You're One of Them is a book that belongs on every shelf.
New York Daily News
June Sawyers
Searing...In the end, the most enduring image of these disturbing, beautiful and hopeful stories is that of slipping away. Children disappear into the anonymous blur of the big city or into the darkness of the all-encompassing bush. One can only hope that they survive to live another day and tell another tale.
San Francisco Chronicle
John Freeman
These stories are complex, full of respect for the characters facing depravity, free of sensationalizing or glib judgments. They are dispatches from a journey, Akpan makes clear, which has only begun. It is to their credit that grim as they are-you cannot but hope these tales have a sequel.
Cleveland Plain-Dealer
Alan Cheuse
An important literary debut.... Juxtaposed against the clarity and revelation in Akpan's prose-as translucent a style as I've read in a long while—we find subjects that nearly render the mind helpless and throw the heart into a hopeless erratic rhythm out of fear, out of pity, out of the shame of being only a few degrees of separation removed from these monstrous modern circumstances...The reader discovers that no hiding place is good enough with these stories battering at your mind and heart.
Chicago Tribune
Jeffrey Burke and Craig Seligman
A stupefyingly talented young Nigerian priest. Akpan never flinches from his difficult subjects—poverty, slavery, mass murder—but he has the largeness of soul to make his vision of the terrible transcendent.
Bloomberg News
Jennifer Reese - Entertainment Weekly (EW Pick / Grade A)
"Awe is the only appropriate response to Uwem Akpan's stunning debut, Say You're One of Them, a collection of five stories so ravishing and sad that I regret ever wasting superlatives on fiction that was merely very good. A."
Janet Maslin - The New York Times
"[A] startling debut collection... Akpan is not striving for surreal effects. He is summoning miseries that are real.... He fuses a knowledge of African poverty and strife with a conspicuously literary approach to storytelling filtering tales of horror through the wide eyes of the young."
Megan O'Grady - Vogue
"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."
Vince Passaro - O Magazine
"The humor, the endurance, the horrors and grace-Akpan has captured all of it.... The stories are not only amazing and moving, and imbued with a powerful moral courage-they are also surprisingly expert.... Beautifully constructed, stately in a way that offsets their impoverished scenarios. Akpan wants you to see and feel Africa, its glory and its pain. And you do, which makes this an extraordinary book."
Lisa Shea - Elle
"Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian Jesuit priest, has said he was inspired to write by the 'humor and endurance of the poor,' and his debut story collection...about the gritty lives of African children - speaks to the fearsome, illuminating truth of that impulse."
Patrik Henry Bass - Essence
"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."
Kim Hubbard - People
"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."
John Marshall - Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"All the promise and heartbreak of Africa today are brilliantly illuminated in this debut collection..."
Maureen Corrigan - NPR's "Fresh Air"
"Akpan's brilliance is to present a brutal subject through the bewildered, resolutely chipper voice of children...All five of these stories are electrifying."
Deirdre Donahue - USA TODAY
"brilliant...an extraordinary portrait of modern Africa... [Akpan]... is an important and gifted writer who should be read."
Margo Hammond & Ellen Heltzel - Minneapolis Star Tribune
"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."
Adelle Waldman - Christian Science Monitor
"Akpan combines the strengths of both fiction and journalism - the dramatic potential of the one and the urgency of the other - to create a work of immense power...He is a gifted storyteller capable of bringing to life myriad characters and points of view...the result is admirable, artistically as well as morally."
Susan Straight - Washington Post Book World (front page review)
"It is not merely the subject that makes Akpan's...writing so astonishing, translucent, and horrifying all at once; it is his talent with metaphor and imagery, his immersion into character and place....Uwem Akpan has given these children their voices, and for the compassion and art in his stories I am grateful and changed."
Sherryl Connelly - New York Daily News
"Say You're One of Them is a book that belongs on every shelf."
June Sawyers - San Francisco Chronicle
"Searing...In the end, the most enduring image of these disturbing, beautiful and hopeful stories is that of slipping away. Children disappear into the anonymous blur of the big city or into the darkness of the all-encompassing bush. One can only hope that they survive to live another day and tell another tale."
John Freeman - Cleveland Plain-Dealer
"These stories are complex, full of respect for the characters facing depravity, free of sensationalizing or glib judgments. They are dispatches from a journey, Akpan makes clear, which has only begun. It is to their credit that grim as they are-you cannot but hope these tales have a sequel."
Alan Cheuse - Chicago Tribune
"An important literary debut.... Juxtaposed against the clarity and revelation in Akpan's prose-as translucent a style as I've read in a long while--we find subjects that nearly render the mind helpless and throw the heart into a hopeless erratic rhythm out of fear, out of pity, out of the shame of being only a few degrees of separation removed from these monstrous modern circumstances...The reader discovers that no hiding place is good enough with these stories battering at your mind and heart."
Jeffrey Burke and Craig Seligman - Bloomberg News
"A stupefyingly talented young Nigerian priest. Akpan never flinches from his difficult subjects--poverty, slavery, mass murder--but he has the largeness of soul to make his vision of the terrible transcendent."
From citation by Larry Dark for SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM
"Any of the six stories in this collection set in Africa is enough to break a reader's heart. Two are novella length, including a tour de force, 'Luxurious Hearses,' which takes place on a crowded bus."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316086370
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
09/18/2009
Series:
Oprah's Book Club Series
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
183,112
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Say You're One Of Them
Chapter One
An Ex-mas Feast
Now that my eldest sister, Maisha, was twelve, none of us knew how to relate to her anymore. She had never forgiven our parents for not being rich enough to send her to school. She had been behaving like a cat that was going feral: she came home less and less frequently, staying only to change her clothes and give me some money to pass on to our parents. When home, she avoided them as best she could, as if their presence reminded her of too many things in our lives that needed money. Though she would snap at Baba occasionally, she never said anything to Mama. Sometimes Mama went out of her way to provoke her. " Malaya! Whore! You don't even have breasts yet!" she'd say. Maisha would ignore her.
Maisha shared her thoughts with Naema, our ten-year-old sister, more than she did with the rest of us combined, mostly talking about the dos and don'ts of a street girl. Maisha let Naema try on her high heels, showed her how to doll up her face, how to use toothpaste and a brush. She told her to run away from any man who beat her, no matter how much money he offered her, and that she would treat Naema like Mama if she grew up to have too many children. She told Naema that it was better to starve to death than go out with any man without a condom.
When she was at work, though, she ignored Naema, perhaps because Naema reminded her of home or because she didn't want Naema to see that her big sister wasn't as cool and chic as she made herself out to be. She tolerated me more outside than inside. I could chat her up on the pavement no matter what rags I was wearing. An eight-year-old boy wouldn't get in the way whenshe was waiting for a customer. We knew how to pretend we were strangers-just a street kid and a prostitute talking.
Yet our machokosh family was lucky. Unlike most, our street family had stayed together-at least until that Ex-mas season.
The sun had gone down on Ex-mas evening. Bad weather had stormed the seasons out of order, and Nairobi sat in a low flood, the light December rain droning on our tarpaulin roof. I was sitting on the floor of our shack, which stood on a cement slab at the end of an alley, leaning against the back of an old brick shop. Occasional winds swelled the brown polythene walls. The floor was nested with cushions that I had scavenged from a dump on Biashara Street. At night, we rolled up the edge of the tarpaulin to let in the glow of the shop's security lights. A board, which served as our door, lay by the shop wall.

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What People are saying about this

Megan O'Grady
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.
— Vogue
Kim Hubbard
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.
— People
Jeffrey Burke and Craig Seligman
A stupefyingly talented young Nigerian priest. Akpan never flinches from his difficult subjects—poverty, slavery, mass murder—but he has the largeness of soul to make his vision of the terrible transcendent.
— Bloomberg News
Alan Cheuse
An important literary debut.... Juxtaposed against the clarity and revelation in Akpan's prose-as translucent a style as I've read in a long while—we find subjects that nearly render the mind helpless and throw the heart into a hopeless erratic rhythm out of fear, out of pity, out of the shame of being only a few degrees of separation removed from these monstrous modern circumstances...The reader discovers that no hiding place is good enough with these stories battering at your mind and heart.
— Chicago Tribune
Jennifer Reese
Awe is the only appropriate response to Uwem Akpan's stunning debut, Say You're One of Them, a collection of five stories so ravishing and sad that I regret ever wasting superlatives on fiction that was merely very good. A.
— Entertainment Weekly (EW Pick / Grade A)
Vince Passaro
The humor, the endurance, the horrors and grace-Akpan has captured all of it.... The stories are not only amazing and moving, and imbued with a powerful moral courage-they are also surprisingly expert.... Beautifully constructed, stately in a way that offsets their impoverished scenarios. Akpan wants you to see and feel Africa, its glory and its pain. And you do, which makes this an extraordinary book.
— O Magazine
Margo Hammond & Ellen Heltzel
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.
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
Susan Straight
It is not merely the subject that makes Akpan's...writing so astonishing, translucent, and horrifying all at once; it is his talent with metaphor and imagery, his immersion into character and place....Uwem Akpan has given these children their voices, and for the compassion and art in his stories I am grateful and changed.
— Washington Post Book World (front page review)
Sherryl Connelly
Say You're One of Them is a book that belongs on every shelf.
— New York Daily News
June Sawyers
Searing...In the end, the most enduring image of these disturbing, beautiful and hopeful stories is that of slipping away. Children disappear into the anonymous blur of the big city or into the darkness of the all-encompassing bush. One can only hope that they survive to live another day and tell another tale.
— San Francisco Chronicle
Patrik Henry Bass
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.
— Essence
John Freeman
These stories are complex, full of respect for the characters facing depravity, free of sensationalizing or glib judgments. They are dispatches from a journey, Akpan makes clear, which has only begun. It is to their credit that grim as they are-you cannot but hope these tales have a sequel.
— Cleveland Plain-Dealer
Lisa Shea
Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian Jesuit priest, has said he was inspired to write by the 'humor and endurance of the poor,' and his debut story collection...about the gritty lives of African children - speaks to the fearsome, illuminating truth of that impulse.
— Elle
John Marshall
All the promise and heartbreak of Africa today are brilliantly illuminated in this debut collection...
— Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Maureen Corrigan
Akpan's brilliance is to present a brutal subject through the bewildered, resolutely chipper voice of children...All five of these stories are electrifying.
— NPR's "Fresh Air"
Adelle Waldman
Akpan combines the strengths of both fiction and journalism - the dramatic potential of the one and the urgency of the other - to create a work of immense power...He is a gifted storyteller capable of bringing to life myriad characters and points of view...the result is admirable, artistically as well as morally.
— Christian Science Monitor
Deirdre Donahue
brilliant...an extraordinary portrait of modern Africa... [Akpan]...
is an important and gifted writer who should be read.
— USA Today

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