Home   |  About Us   |  Contacts   |  Products    
 News Items
 Top Stories
 News Briefs
 Also Featuring
 Movie Reviews
 Sunday Scripture
 CNS Blog
 Links to Clients
 Major Events
 2008 papal visit
 World Youth Day
 John Paul II
 For Clients
 Client Login
 CNS Insider
 We're also on ...
 RSS Feeds
 Top Stories
 Movie Reviews
 CNS Blog
 For More Info

 If you would like
 more information
 about Catholic
 News Service,
 please contact
 CNS at one of
 the following:
 (202) 541-3250


 This material
 may not
 be published,
 rewritten or
 except by
 linking to
 a page on
 this site.

 CNS Story:

BOOK-AFRICA Aug-1-2008 (430 words) With book cover. xxxm

Priest's stories treat African horrors with heartbreaking normalcy

"Say You're One of Them," by Uwem Akpan. Little, Brown and Company (New York, 2008). 358 pp., $23.99.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Rackover
Catholic News Service

Father Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian Jesuit, writes of religious intolerance and ethnic conflict, and of unspeakable deprivation, with a preternatural calm -- as if one who has really seen it doesn't need to wave his arms wildly or shout about it. Father Akpan's communities are roiling with hideous enmities, with Muslim, Christian, pagan, Tutsi and Hutu neighbors and even families pitted against one another. Yet there is no judgment in his voice.

Considering the atrocities and casualties that drive the narratives of his collected short stories in "Say You're One of Them," this is an admirable, even remarkable feat.

Bigotry, violence, hunger, betrayal and abandonment settle into his stories with a heartbreaking normalcy. Children navigate through unimaginable horrors without stopping to question why such things are happening. They are too busy dealing with reality to quarrel with their fate.

Moments of powerful and startling beauty do emerge -- but they are few. In "My Parents' Bedroom," a young girl says of her mother that "the sequins on her dress glitter in the candlelight as if her heart were on fire." In "What Language Is That?" there is even a sly and sweet rewriting of the rules when two young friends, separated by religious intolerance, find a way to communicate.

Much of the dialogue in Father Akpan's stories presents a challenge. In "Fattening for Gabon" and "Luxurious Hearses," particularly, the unfamiliar language may hold a reader at bay. Unfamiliar words pour from his characters. In exchange for dialectic authenticity, readers may have to work harder than usual to keep up.

There is almost an Old Testament feel to the violence of the stories. While reading, I was reminded of a quote from the writings of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin: "Almost every square inch of the earth's surface is soaked with the tears and blood of the innocent, and it's not God's doing. It's our doing. ... When they see the innocent suffering, every time they lift their eyes to heaven and say, 'God, how could you let this happen?' It's well to remember that exactly at that moment God is asking exactly the same question of us: 'How could you let this happen?'"

Father Akpan doesn't overtly pose this question. He doesn't have to. It is there, lurking in each page of every one of his painful stories.

- - -

Rackover is a parent and religious education teacher in southeast Michigan.


Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS · 3211 Fourth St NE · Washington DC 20017 · 202.541.3250