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Say You're One of Them Hardcover – June 9, 2008

215 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Nigerian-born Jesuit priest Akpan transports the reader into gritty scenes of chaos and fear in his rich debut collection of five long stories set in war-torn Africa. An Ex-mas Feast tells the heartbreaking story of eight-year-old Jigana, a Kenyan boy whose 12-year-old sister, Maisha, works as a prostitute to support her family. Jigana's mother quells the children's hunger by having them sniff glue while they wait for Maisha to earn enough to bring home a holiday meal. In Luxurious Hearses, Jubril, a teenage Muslim, flees the violence in northern Nigeria. Attacked by his own Muslim neighbors, his only way out is on a bus transporting Christians to the south. In Fattening for Gabon, 10-year-old Kotchikpa and his younger sister are sent by their sick parents to live with their uncle, Fofo Kpee, who in turn explains to the children that they are going to live with their prosperous godparents, who, as Kotchikpa pieces together, are actually human traffickers. Akpan's prose is beautiful and his stories are insightful and revealing, made even more harrowing because all the horror—and there is much—is seen through the eyes of children. (June) Read a web-exclusive q&a with Uwem Akpan at
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From 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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (June 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316113786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316113786
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,143,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Uwem Akpan was born in Ikot Akpan Eda in southern Nigeria. After studying philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga universities, he studied theology for three years at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2003 and received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2006. "My Parents' Bedroom," a story from his short story collection, "Say You're One of Them," was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for The Caine Prize for African Writing 2007. Say You're One of Them won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region) 2009 and PEN/Beyond Margins Award 2009, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. In 2007, Akpan taught at a Jesuit college in Harare, Zimbabwe. Now he serves at Christ the King Church, Ilasamaja-Lagos, Nigeria.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

102 of 106 people found the following review helpful By BermudaOnion VINE VOICE on September 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
Say You're One of Them is a book of five short stories written by Uwem Akpan. All of the stories are set in Africa and are told from a child's perspective. They deal with such topics as slavery, religious conflict, genocide and poverty. These are stories of love and sacrifice. They are stories of compassion and confusion. They make you wonder how children can grow up and survive under such circumstances. Some of the stories will leave you feeling numb.

The story that had the biggest impact on me was My Parent's Bedroom. It's the story of Monique, a young girl living in Rwanda with her Tutsi mother and her Hutu father. There is conflict between the two tribes, which Monique and her brother Jean don't understand. It all comes to a horrifying ending for their family when their mother makes the ultimate sacrifice. I can't describe the horror I felt at the end of this story.

I enjoyed Say You're One of Them and think it's a significant book, but I found some of the dialogue very difficult to read. I think it would have been even harder if I didn't know some French. There were times when I had to read sentences several times to extract their meaning. Here's an example of dialogue, chosen at random:

"My mama no be like dat," Jubril argued. "I say I dey come. I go join una now now. Ah ah, no vex now. Come, pollow me go fark dis cows, and I go join."

This book isn't a fast read, but I think it's an important one. The title of the book comes from the fact that children in Africa sometimes have to deny their identity and say they're one of "them" (another tribe or religion) in order to survive. You will be a different person after you've read this book.
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98 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Neil and Tracy on June 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Say You're One of Them is a powerful collection of short stories. Told from the perspective of young children, the collection takes us into the brutality of the childrens' lives in Africa. Each story is a slow awakening to unbelievable horrors for both the child and the reader. The first story, An Ex-Mas feast, looks at a poverty-striken family that must rely on their twelve year old daughter's income to survive. She has to prostitute herself for food and money but she is trying to earn enough money so her younger brother can go to school. The children in "Fattening for Gabon" are being prepared for sale into slavery by their uncle. In "What Language Is That?" two little Ethiopian girls are best friends until their parents suddenly say they cannot speak to each other anymore because one is Muslim and the other is Christian. In "Luxurious Hearses", a Nigerian boy from the north is trying to escape to relatives in the south on a bus filled with the same religious animosity that he hopes to escape. The final story, "My Parent's Bedroom", describes the violence between the Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis as seen through the eyes of a young girl who has mixed parentage.

For me, the most powerful story is the last. I will forever hold the powerful images of a toddler playing in his slain mothers blood. Each story is a work of fiction, but is based on real situations that have transpired. In the Afterword, written by a pastor who knows the author, Uwem Akpan, the writer offers his belief that the publication of these stories is a bold attempt to enlighten readers about children of Africa, which in turn may create a passionate desire to create a safer place for children all over the world. After laying down this book, I know I am one of those affected people, and I thank Pastor Akpan for this powerful lesson.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By David Donelson on July 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Stories of abused and battered children in Africa are legion, but few cut as close to the bone as this collection by Uwem Akpan. His five tales, two of which are novella length, are told with the uninhibited, truth-filled voices of the children involved. Each one takes place in a different country but the theme is universal: the biggest challenge faced by children in Africa is staying alive.

Akpan, a Jesuit priest with an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, piles on details available only to one intimately familiar with the lives described. Be forewarned: some of those details are gruesome to the point of causing distress, which I am sure was his intent. The imagery can range from the droll, like the description of the motorbike loaded with five people, various fruits and vegetables, a rooster and five rolls of toilet paper in "Fattening for Gabon," to the most horrific sight a child can see, a parental bloodbath, in "My Parents' Bedroom." This story ends the book and is the source of the title "Say you're one of them," the command given by a desperate Rwandan Tutsi mother to her Hutu-fathered child as machete-wielding killers approach.

Various dialects are used masterfully to both reveal characters and set scenes. The jargon, slang, and foreign phrases may be off-putting to some readers, but little meaning is lost when the dialogue is read in full context. Quite frankly, the only time many readers can bear to imagine events like those in the book is when they take place on foreign shores. We can be sickened and outraged by horrors on another continent; the same happenings across the street from where we live would paralyze us with fright.
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