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102 of 106 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You will be a different person after you read this book
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...
Published on September 18, 2009 by BermudaOnion

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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not the Africa I know
This is not the Africa I know....Akpan depicts an Africa of victims and oppressors...there is no in-between...children are left to fend for themselves and of course the Western world has lapped this up as it no doubt reinforces their one-dimensional view of Africa.
I have lived and travelled all over Africa - and been to all but one of the countries depicted in this...
Published on October 11, 2010 by Tamara C-J


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102 of 106 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You will be a different person after you read this book, September 18, 2009
By 
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's Take Care of Our Children, June 6, 2008
This review is from: Say You're One of Them (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Art In The Horrific Details, July 4, 2008
This review is from: Say You're One of Them (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. Fortunately, Akpan's familiarity with African poetry infuses much of the writing, giving the book a lyrical tone that keeps the more violent passages from slipping into slasher-movie territory.

As a person who has photographed and written about Africa extensively, I must confess I was not shocked by Akpan's stories. Unfortunately, tales like them are all too familiar to me. I was deeply moved by his dramatic intensity, however, and highly appreciative of his ability to put the reader inside the children's lives.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds: A Novel of Scandal, Love and Death in the Congo
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unforgettable, beautiful, authentic and wise literary call to action, September 18, 2009
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
Uwem Akpan is a Nigerian Jesuit priest and writing teacher living in Zimbabwe, and his stories are garnering much acclaim. Just a few pages into his debut collection, it is easy to see why. Beautiful and devastating, the five tales found in SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM are at once compelling and painful to read. All told from the narrative perspective of a child in crisis, they symbolize a continent in crisis as well. Set in African hot spots like Ethiopia and Rwanda, the stories revolve around themes of family and identity, religion and ethnicity, all complicated by violence, fear and poverty.

A destitute family in Nairobi inhales glue to stave off hunger and watches their 12-year-old daughter turn to prostitution in "An Ex-mas Feast." Two little girls in Ethiopia --- one Muslim, one Christian --- are best friends until religious tensions and riots in their city force them apart in "What Language is That?" Both these stories are short yet highly effective. The three remaining tales, however, are even more amazing and heartbreaking.

The nine-year-old girl at the center of "In My Parents' Bedroom" is forced to watch as the horrors and injustices of contemporary Rwanda play out in her house, each of her parents having to take opposing sides. In less than 30 pages, Akpan spins a brilliant tale that entrances and repulses, capturing the complexities of the situation and reminding readers that there are real lives at stake beyond this fiction.

In "Fattening for Gabon" two young siblings are being raised by a kindly and affectionate uncle as their parents lie dying of AIDS in their home village. Kotchipka and Yewa are spoiled and feasted by their uncle's new friends, but Kotchipka realizes that he and his sister are in grave danger and tries to resist their charms. By the end he knows he must fight for his own survival and that of his little sister, or be sold into slavery.

"Luxurious Hearses" is the story of a 16-year-old Muslim boy escaping from one end of Nigeria to the Christian region and the home of the father he has never known. Pretending to be a Christian, he finds himself stuck on a bus full of Catholics and Pentecostals, not to mention a tribal chief of the indigenous religion. As the stuffy, overcrowded bus sits and awaits its driver, wave after wave of tension ripple through it, threatening violence. Differing political views and beliefs find common ground in a hatred of Muslims, and Jubril --- far from his family and having been turned against by other Muslims --- must keep up his façade, all the while praying to Allah for help. The bus becomes a microcosm of a divided nation, and Jubril's internal exploration of identity and personal history is symbolic of the confusion, faith, hopes and fears of its citizens. Akpan takes readers on Jubril's fascinating journey and delivers a surprising and very memorable ending.

In each story Akpan uses language, often a broken but lyrical English, to show the similarities and differences between the diverse peoples of Africa. Because of this, along with powerful plots and sympathetic narrators, SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM is an unforgettable, beautiful, authentic and wise literary call to action. Akpan's book is highly recommended and will leave readers wanting more of his dark, carefully moralistic and quite extraordinary tales.

--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Joyce meets Flannery O'Connor meets Chinua Achebe?, August 29, 2008
This review is from: Say You're One of Them (Hardcover)
You can read other Amazon reviewers and the synopsis from the Washington Post here for an overview of the themes and their author. What no other previous entry has conveyed is the power of Akpan's language. He rarely pauses from dialogue or moving the story along often intricate lines, so when he does notice the landscape, it's for a telling detail. These scenes allow the narrative to "catch its breath" and to pause for dramatic effect. Since most of the stories included here rush along often into truly harrowing scenarios, these momentary shifts towards the horizon only intensify the punch of these unflinchingly brutal, poignant tales.

My favorite comes on p. 74, about thirty pages into the novella (130 pp.) "Fattening for Gabon." The children do not know yet why they are being fussed over and threatened alternately. But, note how the details compress traditional with globalized Africa near the border that separates them from their fate, and match the transition from pastoral safety to menacing journey under powerful forces-- a trail that Yewa and the narrator Kotchikpa follow unwittingly:

"The fisherman at sea spangled the water with their lanterns, like stars. Yet there was no sea, no sky, no land, only points of light dangling in a black chasm. The night had eaten the coconut vistas too, except when the canoe lanterns, moving, were periodically blotted out behind the trees. The sea blew a strong kiss of breeze, warm and unrelenting, through our neighborhood. In the distance, we could hear the hum from the no-man's-land market fizzling out for the night. We could also hear the semitrailers and trucks coming and going from the border, backing up or parking. Sometimes, from where we sat, we saw the beams of their headlights sweeping the skies of neighboring villages, like searchlights."

Akpan's skilled at what his Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius, called the practice of "discernment." The author's able to imagine himself into the scenes he depicts, and they unfold from his imagination weighted on imaginative levels that deepen their immediate references. They convey a spiritual gloss that reminds me of many of the stories of similarly "paralyzed" youngsters and adults in Joyce's "Dubliners." Perhaps the difference is that Fr. Akpan believes in what James Joyce sought to transmit by literary rather than salvific means to the reader seeking, along with the characters, enlightenment. For both Akpan and Joyce, we get the machinations of the grown-up world filtered often unbearably through the perspectives of those too young, too powerless, or too overwhelmed to cope with pure evil and utter chaos.

In each story, often subtly and deftly, he manages to refer to Christian themes that his characters briefly recall within their terror or wonder. I only gave this four stars because "What Language" to me while a good story fell short of the mark set by the other four, and out of these, the other novella, "Luxurious Hearses," appeared at times to be too schematic, almost as if "Things Fall Apart" by his predecessor Chinua Achebe (also reviewed by me) needed to be updated within a framework either too long or too short for the pages given to it. Yet, the story ends as gracefully, or as awfully, as most of the others here. Akpan spares no sense in making you feel, as potently as did the Jesuit preacher in Joyce's "Portrait," the hold the imagination can have over the pinioned and gibbering soul.

Other places in his fiction, luckily, Akpan shifts towards a degree of grace, if often tempered with irony as the expectations of faith are always tested to their utmost, and many of the characters find their fate one of flight, exile, or a kind of martyrdom for their convictions. The earlier Amazonian comparing Akpan to Flannery O'Connor hit the mark. A quick example later in the story: "The plantations and sea loomed behind the road, and sometimes it looked as if the plantation were on the sea or as if the people on the road were walking on the water, like Jesus." (130)

This writer, I predict, will only improve with his next stories, and a five-star rating will surely be earned. The stories demand attention, and the unfamiliarity that Western readers will have with the Africanized syntax, loan words, French and untranslated native dialogue, plunge you in, appropriately, to the dilemmas of a continent undergoing dramatic upheaval. His characters may not find much luck; but we are lucky that Fr. Akpan can convey their drama to us in stories that often prove to be, despite the risk of cliché, ones you cannot put down much as you wish you could forget their carefully described patterns of darkness and light, despair and hope, grace and damnation.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expertly woven tales about realities far removed from those faced by our children in the West, June 8, 2008
This review is from: Say You're One of Them (Hardcover)
Unless one has encountered circumstances similar to those outlined in the stories, it is hard to reconcile the fact that this is a daily occurrence for millions of children. For a debut author, quite simply, Uwem Akpan has woven remarkable tales. For whatever reason, I chose to read the last story, My Parents Bedroom, first. Without a doubt, this powerful story is the best in the collection. The remaining stories hovered around a 7.5/8 out of ten but never took me to the gripping heights of My Parents Bedroom. I am somewhat shocked that this book wasnt given the stamp of approval by more magazines/newspapers and well-known authors. It is a gem of a collection and I hope it garners more publicity because the author truly deserves this.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not the Africa I know, October 11, 2010
By 
Tamara C-J (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Say You're One of Them (Paperback)
This is not the Africa I know....Akpan depicts an Africa of victims and oppressors...there is no in-between...children are left to fend for themselves and of course the Western world has lapped this up as it no doubt reinforces their one-dimensional view of Africa.
I have lived and travelled all over Africa - and been to all but one of the countries depicted in this book and what I take away time and again are stories of hope and ambition. Many years ago, I worked in Kenya with someone who lived in the Kibera slums, but to look at this well turned out young man with dreams bigger than mine, you would have no idea of his living conditions or that he was surviving on one basic meal a day and supporting a family of 8. Likewise I have heard many stories of national solidarity in Rwanda during and following the 1994 genocide. People who live in poverty in Africa in my experience have dreams and aspirations as big as anyone else's.

The story that carries the book's title and deals with the Rwandan genocide is over simplistic at best....the round dark faced Hutu versus the light Tutsi with fine features....the evil Hutu genocidaires, the apathetic UN soldiers and ofcourse the vengeful Tutsi RPF soldiers - again we find ourselves in a setting where African children have nowhere to turn, no one to save them.

Say you're one of them' depicts an Africa of victims, one where Africans cannot rescue one another because they are all either evil or poor and helpless. I suppose this presumes that we are a continent waiting to be rescued by the benevolent Western world. While I do not question Akpan's ability to write, I do find it sad that so many reviews have suggested that his stories are in some ways the 'true' Africa and I find it even sadder that Akpan himself sees no hope in his continent or his own people. Had this been a story of one country and one perspective it would be forgiving but to put it forward as in some ways depictive of Africa as a continent and African children's life is a shocking indictment of the continent and in my humble opinion one that is wholly inaccurate.

The following is a review from Amazon.com:
"This book [sic] is really opened my eyes to how children in Africa live and suffer. You always hear about how things are bad there generally, but this author really brings the point home. And that is why I could not finish the book - I felt like it's not really fiction, some variation of the short stories is happening right now to many African children."

How very sad ......as if the BBC and CNN have not done a brilliant enough job of depicting an Africa of wars, corruption, famine and suffering with not much else - here we have an African writer cementing their already skewed views of the continent - is it any wonder we're still dismissed as a basket case?
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short stories that make you think!, June 17, 2008
By 
This review is from: Say You're One of Them (Hardcover)
This group of short stories by Nigerian-born Jesuit priest, Uwem Akpan, is absolutely stunning. I mean that in two distinct ways.

First, the stories are wonderfully constructed with characters that come alive on the page. The descriptions of family/village/street life in Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Benin and Kenya are often both detailed and horrific. Which leads to the second way in which the stories are stunning - the difficulties experienced by the young protagonists in these stories continued to stun me long after I put the book down.

In "An Ex-Mas Feast," Uwem Akpan takes us to the seedy street world of Nairobi, Kenya, where a family - parents and children, live off of the earnings of the twelve-year-old daughter who sells herself to rich men in fancy cars. Some of the earnings are supposed to help her brother go to school. He is bright, sensitive and knows what is going on - and is not happy about it.

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 ever again 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 hope 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.

These stories all are full of hatred and humanity, love and unspeakable evil. They bring some understanding to news from African nations and make it feel personal.

Uwem Akpan does use quite a bit of native dialect in the speech of the characters. He also sprinkles it with many non-English words. A brief glossary at the end of the book would have been useful. I could understand the terms in context, but I'm afraid that subtle and possibly not-so-subtle nuances were lost.

Armchair Interviews says: Up close and personal with people in these countries.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful story teller, July 22, 2008
This review is from: Say You're One of Them (Hardcover)
Hachette Book Group USA has put out another book that I fell in love with. (The first set of books from Hachette that caught my attention were those by Stephenie Meyer. I was thrilled to learn that Twilight is being made into a movie set to open on December 12, 2008!) This latest book, Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, was a more difficult read, though a call to action that is timely and necessary. The book is a collection of 5 short stories by Akpan, a Jesuit priest originally from Nigeria who is now living and teaching in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Akpan's is certainly not the first set of stories to chronicle the trouble life of people across Africa. What is unique about the collection is that it is told entirely from the perspective of children. Because of their resiliency, children are able to see the light and dark, simultaneously, in many situations where adults see only one aspect or the other. Children are on a quest for joy, for resolution, and most certainly for peace. As Frank McCourt said in the trilogy of books about his own life, children keep moving forward because it's the only thing they know how to do. Akpan's characters embrace that philosophy and take us along with them for the journey.

To be sure, the circumstances are horrifying - tribal wars, destruction, rape, poverty, starvation. I sometimes had to put the book down because each page is so densely packed with raw emotion and brutally honest storytelling. There is no sugar-coating here. What kept me coming back and reading late into the night was Akpan's intensely visual story telling that has us bear witness to what's happening in countries all across Africa. We are unable to turn away as we make our way through the book and we feel compelled, even obligated, to do something, to say something, to change something. Through literature, he found his voice while also giving a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves.

Say You're One of Them was recently reviewed in USA Today. And today, there is a front page article in USA Today on Americans who are finding purpose in Africa.
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58 of 78 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Read, November 12, 2009
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I really wanted to love this book after the wonderful promos given on the Oprah Show. I so looked forward to reading the collection of short stories about the (fictional) account of some children in Africa.

I was very disappointed with the book. The mixture of English with French and other various contractions was extremely disconcerting. I often had to read and reread some sections just to understand what was taking place. It took a lot of effort to keep track of the various characters and what was happening. Like other reviewers, I thought story 2 was way too long.

Even though I have a B.A. in English as well as a J.D. degree, I found this book difficult--having nothing to do with the emotional content. My main criticism is that with all the contractions, mixture of different languages, and overly long prose (not moving the plot along) I had to really push myself to finish the book. It just bogged down--all along the way.
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