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Happiness, Like Water Paperback – August 13, 2013
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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
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― Chinelo Okparanta
This is one of the few books where I found myself wondering why the author had chosen this title and what it meant. In my mind I had imagined water in its river form, and interpreted it as happiness is like water because it varies in flow. Sometimes it is an overwhelming river, and other times it is a slow and steady stream. My original theory, as you can see, is totally different from this revelatory quote. I have to say that I like this interpretation better than mine! Although more cynical than my original thought.
I have been really appreciating the sleuth of Nigerian authors that I have had the opportunity to read thanks to BookBub and BookRiot! Definitely nice to see a diversity of books being represented in these daily book deals.
This book was a true delight to read. The stories were intricate and different, but at the same time they seemed to tie together well. All beautiful short stories of Nigerian women interacting with America in different ways and dealing with various life stages. It's impossible not to connect with at least one of the characters. I know that I particularly identified with a secondary character, with whom one of the characters falls in love with. There's a scene where this young woman talks about love and tells her professor (the main character of the story) this:
"‘Really in love,’ she says, ‘the kind where every part of you feels like you could spend forever with the person. And you wish that forever could be more than a lifetime. The kind where you don’t see all the things that are wrong with the person, all the negatives that should have prevented you from falling for the person in the first place’".
Chinelo Okparanta imparts much wisdom through her characters and raises even more questions than she answers. She is the type of author that is able to create short stories that are satisfying. I am usually not a fan of short stories because they always leave me wanting more, but with Okparanta, she gave me just enough to be satisfied while still ensuring that she created thought provoking narratives.
Through her stories she does leave you with the sense that happiness is like water. It is a hard thing to grasp and it isn't meant to last forever. So whatever happy moments you get, enjoy them for they are fleeting. They will always escape through your fingers but that doesn't have to be negative. As long as you enjoy the moments for what they are and understand that there will be more happiness to come.
"Because, as if in rebellion, certain emotions become amplified at the exact moments when you are expected not to feel them at all." - Chinelo Okparanta