There are stories you read that make you aware that you’ve known nothing, you’ve experienced nothing, you’ve suffered nothing. The stories that make your own sorrow look so meagre you feel ashamed to have named those feelings ‘sufferings’ at all. When you think your heartache is biggest of all, you come across a book, a story, a piece of writing, and it makes you aware that your misery is nothing at all. There are people who have suffered more, suffered greatly, suffered ceaselessly, and have suffered pure evil.
Say You Are One of Them was one of those books that changed my whole perspective about life. This was the book that changed my thinking, taught me to differentiate between the real SORROW and a mere DISCOMFORT. This was the book that taught me to appreciate the gift of life. This was the book that taught me to be happy because I had so much to be happy about.
In each narrative, each told from the perspective of a child from a different African country, Akpan: intense and vivid and yet simple, portrays the terror, the fear, the dreadfulness of the mundane details of everyday life. Say You Are One of Them is a collection of five stories about family and friendship, about betrayal and redemption. Akpan simply and straightforwardly emphasizes the tenacity and perseverance of fragile children. The horrors that each of those small children go through exist outside the realm of anything logical.
All five of book’s stories are captivating, but “Fattening for Gabon” is the one that left a lasting impression on me. It’s one of the longest as well: over hundred pages and resembles a dark fairy tale in its slow and sinister build up toward an evil climax. The protagonists, a 10-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister, are sent to live with their uncle because their parents are dying of AIDS. Uncle makes a deal with the devil and sells them to become merchandises in a human trafficking network. Because an emaciated body will not achieve much at market, the siblings are fed on feasts for the slave trade. Akpan uses a first-person narrative in it; the story is told from the perspective of 10-year-old boy, and that’s where it drives its power as well. There is a strong disparity between the child’s utterly dim perceptions of what awaits them and readers’ adult awareness that something evil is lurking in the shadow.
I read this book before I become a mother. And I’m glad for that. There’s no way I would pick a book where small children are sucked down into a horror of pure evil, and the evil triumphs.
A book that will leave the reader depressed, exhausted, and spent.
Neena lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, two children, a highly energetic German Shepherd, and a lifetime collection of her favorite books.
A hermit at heart, she’s a permissive mother, a reluctant housekeeper, a superb cook, and a hard-core reader.
Tied to Deceit is her debut novel.
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