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Happiness, Like Water Paperback – August 13, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In her first collection of stories, Nigerian-born Okparanta focuses primarily on African women and their relationships with family, lovers, colleagues, and the community at large. Okparanta draws on her experience as a Jehovah’s Witness growing up in Port Harcout and immigrating to the U.S. These are fierce, unflinching stories of the complicated knotting of close ties and the strange behaviors of language. In stories of hearsay and rumor, Okparanta portrays the ways language creeps around social circles and intrudes, distorts, and penetrates the heart of life. In “Wahala!,” after receiving questionable advice from a shaman, a husband and wife hear chillingly different intonations in each other’s intimate exhalations. In “Fairness,” young girls overhear talk about using bleach to lighten skin color and experiment with the treatment to horrendous results. In other stories, Okparanta presents a picture of the U.S. as envisioned and talked about by Nigerians overseas. Named one of Granta’s New Voices, Okparanta joins the good company of young writers like NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names, 2013) and Téa Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife, 2011). --Diego Báez


2014 O'Henry Award Winner
2014 Lambda Literary Award Winner
2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature Finalist

2014 New York Public Library Young Lions Award Finalist
2014 Rolex Mentors and Protégés Arts Initiative Finalist in Literature
2014 Lambda Awards General Lesbian Fiction Finalist
2013 Society of Midland Authors Award Finalist
2013 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, Long-listed
2013 Caine Prize in African Writing Finalist
Editors' Choice, New York Times Book Review
The Guardian
's Best African Fiction of 2013
2012 United States Artists Fellowship Nominated Author

“Full of movement…These tales will break your heart open. Okparanta guides you through her stories with lovely, surreal, haunting clarity.”
New York Daily News

"Okparanta is an unpretentious writer, but her ambition comes through in the lives she renders—young Nigerian women divided between home and a new world."

"The stories in Okparanta’s first collection are quiet, often unnervingly so, in the manner of a stifled shriek…One character notes the silences that fall between her and her mother, ‘as if we no longer valued spoken words, as if spoken words were gaudy finishes on a delicate piece of art, unnecessary distractions from the masterpiece, whose substance was more meaningfully experienced if left unornamented.’ If this is Okparanta’s goal – the distillation of experience into something crystalline, stark but lustrous – she is well on her way there."
New York Times Book Review

"Chinelo Okparanta was chosen as one of Granta’s six new voices for 2012, and it’s easy to see why. Her short story collection, Happiness, Like Water (Mariner), is a triumph of a book. The ten stories are all short but powerful, tracing the lives of women from Okparanta’s native Nigeria…Ultimately Okparanta’s collection is not so much a statement about Nigerian women as it is a depiction of a few women who happen to be Nigerian going through universal issues in their own, unique social contexts. It’s a book about Nigeria, about America, and about women everywhere told in short sentences and simple, matter-of-fact language that manages to be incredibly emotionally evocative nonetheless. Okparanta is a certainly a voice to watch, and clearly deserves a place on any bookshelf beside fellow Nigerian authors Achebe and Adichie."

"The stories are quiet and understated and lucid and gather up their power almost without the reader realizing it, then they break your heart, just like that. Such subtle and open and strong writing."
The Millions

"This promising young author delivers an affecting collection, revolving around African women, at home and abroad, contemplating religion and love."—Time Out New York

"Okparanta pays great attention to detail, making it easy to get caught up in the problems of these women who must fend for themselves. . . She writes with compassion and strength for these nameless, faceless women who are unable to defend their own actions."—Bust

"Bittersweet. . .[Happiness, Like Water] is an extremely promising debut: the handling of tone and perspective is assured; the prose lucid and elegant throughout."—Financial Times (UK)

"The unsparing stories of Happiness, Like Water show Okparanta to be a champion of young, frequently misunderstood female protagonists whose voices are too often stifled."
Daily Beast

"Okparanta skillfully introduces readers to a new world held back by old-world traditions"
Publishers Weekly

"Nigeria, the vibrancy of its heart, the soul of its people, is captured in these stories."

"[Okparanta] confirms her place as a writer to watch with the remarkable debut collection Hapiness, Like Water... A clear-eyed, sensitive debut collection of stories by a talented young Nigerian writer exploring themes of family, religion, longing and duty."
Shelf Awareness

"Chinelo Okparanta’s debut collection is astonishing. Her narrators render their stories with such strength and intimacy, such lucidity and composure, that in each and every case the truths of their lives detonate deep inside the reader’s heart, with the power and force of revelation."
—Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers

"Okparanta's prose is tender, beautiful and evocative. These powerful stories of contemporary Nigeria are told with compassion and a certain sense of humour. What a remarkable new talent."
—Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street

"Intricate, graceful prose propels Okparanta’s profoundly moving and illuminating book. I devoured these stories and immediately wanted more. This is an arrival."
—NoViolet Bulawayo, author of We Need New Names and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing

"A haunting and startlingly original collection of short stories about the lives of Nigerians both at home and in America. Okparanta’s characters are forced to make difficult, often impossible choices—a university student decides to go to work as an escort to pay for her mother’s medical bills, a high school teacher is asked to come home to care for her dying, abusive father—and yet they manage to prevail through quiet and sometimes surprising acts of defiance. Okparanta’s prose is elegant and precise, fueled by a strong undercurrent of rage that surfaces at unexpected moments. Happiness, Like Water is a deeply affecting literary debut, the work of a sure and gifted new writer."
—Julie Otsuka, author of National Bestseller and National Book Award Finalist The Buddha in the Attic

"Without bluster, Chinelo Okparanta writes stories that are brave and devastating."
—Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (August 13, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544003454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544003453
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chinelo Okparanta was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. A University of Iowa Provost's Postgraduate Visiting Writer in Fiction as well as a Colgate University Olive B. O'Connor Fellow in Fiction, Okparanta received her BS from Pennsylvania State University, her MA from Rutgers University, and her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was one of Granta's six New Voices for 2012 and is a Lambda Award winner for Lesbian Fiction, an O. Henry Short Story Prize winner, a finalist for the Rolex Mentors and Proteges Arts Initiative, a finalist for the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and a finalist for the Caine Prize, among others. Her stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Let's start out by saying that if you're looking for stories about happiness, you won't find them in this short story collection. The author tips her hand in the titled quote: "Happiness is like water...We're always trying to grab onto it, but it's always slipping between our fingers."

These are stories where urgent needs of the characters are often unmet and where emotional survival is often precarious. These are also uniquely Nigerian stories; as readers, we get to see the culture and mores of this fascinating country up close and personal. But most of all, these are strong stories - intimate, accessible, authentic, and gracefully written.

The anthologized story, America, focuses on a narrator named Nnenna, a science teacher, who is appealing for a visa to join her gay lover, Gloria, in America. The timing is right: America has just suffered a well-publicized oil spill. Yet is the need for a less-complicated life a betrayal of sorts since Nigeria also needs its talents? Nneena reflects, "Now the mangroves are dead, and there is no birdsong at all. And of course, there are no fish, no shrimp, and no crab to be caught. Instead, oil shoots up in the air like a fountain of black water, and fisherman lament that rather than coming out of the water, they are instead harvesting Shell oil on their bodies."

Ms. Okparanta's stories are peopled with those in trauma: in Wahala!, a barren young wife is forced to go to a dibia to remove a "curse by the enchanted" and then to endure a painful act of sex in order to conceive a child so that her husband will retain community respect. In Runs Girl, a young student whose mother can't afford proper medical help is coerced into an act of prostitution.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Chinelo Okparanta has written a stellar debut book of short stories. It is easy to see why Granta has named her one of 'six New Voices for 2012'. This book is peopled with Nigerians who yearn for something that they do not have and are sometimes afraid to go after what they want. Some of the characters reside in Nigeria and others are in the United States, attempting to make new lives for themselves. Each of the stories stand alone except for one that is linked to a second story.

'On Ohaeto Street' is the first story in the collection. It is about Eze, a Jehovah's witness with a good job as an engineer. He marries Chinwe with the condition that she become a witness. Eze is arrogant and a braggart. This is the story of their marriage and the night that they were robbed.

In 'Wahala', Ezinne suffers from a condition that causes very painful intercourse. This makes intimacy with her husband very difficult for both of them. Her husband, Chibuzo, desperately wants a child. Ezinne, Chibuzo, and Ezinne's mother go to a traditional healer for help.

'Fairness' explores the depths to which Nigerian women and teenagers will go in order to lighten their skin. They are willing to do things that cause irreparable harm to themselves.

'Story, Story!'' reads like something out of Stephen King. It is about a woman who will go to any lengths in order to secure a child for herself. She will even try evil and poisoned potions on pregnant women with the hope that they will die and their child will survive so that she can steal it.

'Runs Girl' tells of a college student with a very sick mother. She prostitutes herself in order to raise money for her mother's medical care and bills.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Chinelo Okparanta came to my attention after her story, "America', was a finalist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing. It tells the touching story of a very special friendship between two young women that challenges Nigerian traditions and social conventions... 'America' has been published as one of ten stories in this, her first collection, Happiness, like Water. Okparanta is without a doubt becoming a promising representative of the new generation of Nigerian and African writers who are giving growing prominence to the field of African short fiction writing.

Chinelo Okparanta's engaging stories in this book, some set in Nigeria, some among Nigerian immigrants in the US, explore a wide range of topical subjects and concerns. Mostly told through the eyes of a first person protagonist, she writes with confidence and sensitivity, her language is subtle, yet also lucid and powerful.

Despite of the short fiction format, her characters are realistically drawn and we can comprehend the challenges of their various circumstances. While her stories are rooted in her Nigerian background (she moved with her parents from Nigeria to the US at the age of 10) she addresses such issues as love, longing and betrayal, faith and doubt, and inner-family and inter-generational tensions and violence in such a way that they move beyond the specific and become stories of human struggle and survival. Yes, there is happiness too - fleeting moments that need to be savoured, hope for a future where it can establish itself...

Do I have favourites among the stories? Maybe I do, but each reader will find those that feel closer to home or that affect us individually more deeply than others. Fortunately, I don't have to choose. [Friederike Knabe]
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