Search This Blog

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Say You’re One of Them" by Uwem Akpan

Thanks to Ayọdèlé Morocco-Clarke who gave this book as a gift.


As I flip from page to page riding on the tidal currents of Uwem's offerings, I could feel that Uwem has more experiences to be shared than what he has written on in those five stories that make up Say You're One of Them. My premise is rooted in the manner Uwem drags on in some of the stories, which individually spans almost a hundred pages, sating the reader with every of the superfluous details he wants the reader to know. He tends to be so compassionately biased with the way he tells some issues with brevity aided with creativity and others in a narrative that nearly makes them novellas within an anthology of five short stories. What however makes Uwem lure the reader into every of his story is in how he gets the reader with the storytelling spells that can only be identified with a narrator who is not only telling his stories in vivid descriptive words alone but in the fluidity of one who knows his stories well before telling them. You might be wondering what kind of literature with five short stories really chronicle the events in Africa in picturesque sequences, you only would need to be told that each of the stories set in five different countries of the continent told in children's perspective, does not foist what should be on you but rather makes you piece meanings together for yourself from the accounts of disoriented children of nefarious abuses and violence. 

Uwem must have been aware that his piece of literature could easily be thrown off as one of the lots that appeal to the West with stereotypical African themes of child soldering, religious calamity, child trafficking, etc, hence he adopts the point of view that speaks with tones of innocence rather than narrative that relays events with adult confident accuracy.  Sympathy could always save flaws when stories are told by a child and one might not quickly overreact against pictures that are just too blackly painted to seek pity when it is a minor blathering about it. Say You're One of Them seems to make a reader confess and expiate on behalf of the villain in sheer empathy that grieves one so dearly after each story.  

Say You're One of Them is an afro geo-collection of short stories which unfolds in different settings of five African countries.


The Five Short Stories

An Ex-mas Feast (kenya):  Maisha is never her family's favourite when it comes to moral standards, but she does command the greatest dignity when the family needs depend on the finances she get from prostituting as a minor. She is the sacrificial lamb that holds the family together in seeming unity until the Ex-mas Feast when she explores full time in her trade to cater for the more demanding wants of her family.

Fattening for Gabon (Benin): For Yewa and Kotchikpa, the coming of a Nanfang motorbike into their uncle's, Fofo Kpee, home is the beginning of the abysmal era that will soon ravage them apart. When the source of the Nanfang is known, it has already become too late for Fofo Kpee to remedy events and save his cousins from the suffering he has sold them into. The story delves into the hypocrisy of religion while it still maintains its objectivity on the child-trafficking issue that majorly characterizes the story.

What Language Is That? (Ethiopia): Before the war that tears the narrator apart from her best friend, Salem, all what they know is the world they have mutually created in their own infantile simplicity. In severe suddenness, they become as guilty as the circumstance that creates a gorge between them. With the falseness of emotions that those caught in the middle of religious crisis exude, the two children go aboard to learn another language that could communicate their friendliness to each other even though the plumes of thick smoke that billows from the charred part of their houses robs the atmosphere of all harmony.

Luxurious Hearses (Nigeria):  The quietness of the hearse might not be luxurious to the dead. The still silence of the dead that squirt blood all over is never a pleasant sight even when ferried in luxurious buses. The situation that plagues the characters in this story is antithetical to the lives they must have lived at one time or the other. After Tijani's co-Muslim faithful betray his trust during a religious war that breaks loose in the northern part of the country, he returns to reposing his confidence in the God of the south he knows little about. A fanatic of some sort, Tijani who calmly watches the martyring of his blood brother of the Christian faith can't brave to reveal his Muslim identity in the refugee bus where he seeks protection. Amidst staccato of gunfire, jarred dismembered bodies and reprisal attacks from the two religions (Muslim and Christian) and ethnic groups (North and South), Tijiani almost does make it, but when his chopped off wrist gives him away in the South-bound luxurious bus, nothing could save him as a northern- adherent- Mohammed- worshipper.

My Parents' Bedroom (Rwanda): As succinct as this story is, it well re-enacts the inter-tribal carnage between the Hutu and the Tutsi brilliantly. A child can eavesdrop on the creaking bed of his parents, but when the matrimonial room of the home becomes an abattoir where the mother's head is slashed, the memory of the bedroom may become a hunting ghost. This story uses the setting of a simple Rwandan family to show how inhuman the war between the two tribes is and how the actors of the savage wear bestiality as fitting garbs.


Take this…

This anthology might turn out to be Uwem's definitive work, I don't see him writing anything as entrancing as this. That some of the stories were almost on the whole pages of the book shows that he was under pressure as to what genre to writer under; a collection of short stories or a full novel. Writing about religion is one fragile issue writers seldom dwell on. Being a Jesuit priest I thought Uwem Akpan was going to let prejudice guide him towards giving an imbalanced narration while stifling the views of the opposite religion in Luxurious Hearses. The diplomacy he employed in equally giving voices to the two religious groups takes Luxurious Hearses out of the packs that use literature as their controlled mock courts where cases are adjudged on emotions and microscopic reasoning.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Promoting Books the JALAA Way

I'm curably sick and put out with the cliché of poor reading culture that is constantly mouthed by everyone who has the slightest opportunity to air some ingenuous basis to a confused audience. I swallow short breathed disgusted air when people start going superficially lyrical about what the causes of subsisting Nigerian reading tradition are and what solutions really go to tackle it. Same with how a professor of Technology in one uncertain Nigerian institution will go bragging on some frustrated newspaper column what e-learning is without bringing the simplicity of the word out in a practicable, seeable and (if I may add) touchable manner. Like a friend of mine would say; platitudes – ideas and theories full of plastics! When such professor could easily have put it clearly; e-learning is electronic education by means of multimedia and add as an addendum; despite the point that this is an Institution of Technology we don't have the resource to enhance that. SIMPLE! That saves prosaicsm.

It is a more ubiquitous fact that anything that comes from the mouths of some highly classy conceited few becomes the fussy-point of discussion for many. Okay, cut me some slack, (I would prefer if you could add me some guguru instead) Nigeria is one nation on a slanting verge of deteriorating reading culture, agreed. However, who can say he has taken the pain too in establishing a verified graph on how this improves or plummets over time other than joining the mass on hypocritically playing the messiah in numerous debates of rhetoric? I doubt that! We are only good at coming into our own on presumed stats set by mushy and imbalanced theories.

If census were to be made, I do. I mean, I read! You are surprised?! Why wouldn't you be? I wouldn't even blame you if you do anyway when the preconception that stems from your perspective is what informed by some sizeable networkers attending a literary reading at some highbrow venue in Lagos or Portharcourt. I know a lot of those who get their eyes busy with words, at least on avalanche of pings on BBs and updates on facebook. Unhealthy reading, you may care to say. Ok, it is. But that answer could still be contextual anyway. There are quality notes to read on facebook if you want to go academic on the social media.

Simply put, reading is an art, the art is in words. If the definition is anything to go by in defining what reading is, then a pass should Nigerians score. We really want to read when the materials are mainstreamed into what carries our affections and instantly made obtainable. Check newsstands and the numbers of Sport Tabloid that vie for space and attention with conventional newspapers and correct me if I am mistaken about the fact that we are reading. Seriously we do, at least with those that are without having to go on an expensive journey to some exotic bookshops just to get a good fiction. Can't we be less myopic?!!! The literary enthusiasts in cities that attract readings shouldn't be used as general proposition of book lovers.

Humor and irony apart, the situation isn't whether Nigerian youths read or not, the focal point now should be what they read; if healthy or not and how healthy reading can be encouraged. You want to ponder on why my friends here in Osogbo would rather go for anthologies of Sport's soft sells than put out a morsel on current contemporary African fictions; poor distribution! I have reservation if there are bookshops that really shelve good fictions in remote towns like Terra Kulture and Silverbird's LifeStyle do. The gorge is always there to add strain to one whom so desire to venture into good reading. It might be true reading-culture is dying, but also, are there in place proper chains of book accessibility?

My journeys to Lagos are countless; so are the fares that pay my ferry in getting good fictions daunting. Can't good books be made reachable before plotting graphs on reading culture? Take Farafina books to Ikorodu in Lagos, Dada books to Ubiaja in Edo, Cassava pieces to Ota-Efun in Osun, and let's note if Adichie, Eghosa, Arigbabu, Verissimo and Habila wouldn't be having additional readers and literary followers. It is simple economic-strategy, good distribution increases consumers. And so does it too for books.

When I stumbled on the post made by an online friend (Temitayo Olofinlua) about the sale's network Jalaa Writers' Collective has put up to get readers in the country acquainted with their books, I knew there was a rare magical marketing skill at display. Seeing how their physical transaction centres span almost 22 states of the country, I felt a bit livened up. Not getting any of them in favorable proximity to my hovel, I mischievously typed in on the wall post on facebook; None of these… is close to Osun. Really never cared much thought would be given to that. The reply that I was to later get shattered my belief. Jalaa's move in getting their books closer to a conterminous city to my abode was remarkable! It definitely made workable my idea of peer-exchange an achievable one. Up till that encounter, I've always sank deep in thought on the feasibility of building a network of familiar body contacts where books can be transferable and bought like the movie CDs I borrow next door and the one I purchase at the end of my street. Familiar-body-transfer of books, it's clear, getting books in a familiar circumstance that you usually exchange other things with friends in.

Getting Roses & Bullets and Pride of the Spider Clan by just making  some calls coupled with a 30 minutes trip to Ife for the pickup was alleviating; a good incentive towards reading. The distribution-system the books took to me; fantastic! It was through a simple system of simply dropping the book off with a student at OAU that could effortlessly be contacted for the book. There is now no more arduous step to take in shelving new books, in so far as it is on Jalaa's stable. All what behooves on one are some few calls of inquiry and getting them at the very best convenient location. Jalaa could just be anywhere near you.

I went Jalaa few days ago at Ife, OAU, with the foregoing titles and the cost of really getting them like I was always wont to do at Lagos reduced.

This is what I'm propounding; let leading publishers get volunteering distributors across and through cities and hamlets in the country and let see if reading culture won't leap. Let's be realistic here. Knowing that the African fictions that are only the preserved features in high cities' glass-walled bookshops could also be gotten through a volunteering representative next door or street is one simple potent magic of mass distribution. Let's break the conservative chain and put some creative network in place; my books will definitely swell than I myself would imagine. Same goes for unknown and unrepresented avid readers too.  

Next time some ajebos and attention-seeking coterie are outwitting themselves in dissecting what solutions can be made to the dying Nigerian reading-culture, ask if plans are already under way to make books available at the same current with those things that struggle with it, even if a neighbor knocks on their doors for one to honorably buy and read.

Let book-distribution go guerilla or Jalaala. For now, JALAA; way to go!  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bordering Stereotype from African Fiction: Honesty

On this subject alone, the board of views is so crammed with analyses that make it some disgust to reasoning. What is Stereotype? Why Stereotype? What platitudes come with Stereotype? These questions have always torn horns when minds are to give bases. There have been rants, gabbles, babbles, swipes and spites; all trailing what should be and not to be in this same 'stereotype'. Sometimes, I bitterly wondered if what we make as assertions in judging 'stereotype' wouldn't after all be as stereotypic as what they tend to analyze.

A friend has written his own side on this, merging rich references with apt allusions. Your views may run quite opposite to his, but what you wouldn't dismiss hurriedly is his proper presentation of points so vivid. Enjoy this guest post by Oyebanji Ayo.



People have spoken a lot – consciously and most times, unconsciously about this subject. That is why many literary enthusiasts, when the slightest opportunity avails itself, ask why fictional works of African origin have refused to renounce their 'age-long' friendship with 'already dry and pen-sucked' subjects in this age of facebook and twitter.

Since critics have come out to 'attack' reputable writers like Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo and the like on the recurrence of thematic pre-occupation in their works. These critics have resorted to Conan Doyle's quote – "mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself…" and therefore term the works of these authors as the manifestation of mediocrity or 'literary rigmaroling'. This is why the honesty of works which have the elements of "stereotype" is always questioned.

On the other hand, some other critics have come to appreciate the so-called stereotypes because of the factual and historical content they have. It is important to point it out at this point that factions or work of fiction that have elements of history are guilty of bringing this subject up for discussion or argument most times.

Let's get things straight here. If some unquestionable force has not come up with another meaning for the word "stereotype", something is wrong. Stereotype used to mean something which is fixed in form; used and repeated without thought or change. If it still does, the words "form" and "change" should be noted.

Below are some of the cogent points with which this subject can be examined:

·         Literature and History

·         Something New; Not Literary Puritanism

·         Emphasis

·         The Society: Literature's Brooding Mother


Literature and History

One feature that stands out among the many Literature has is Verisimilitude. Literature irrespective of the genre draws from everything that happens in the real world. Akeem Lasisi despite that the fact he discusses the route to matrimony and the feminine mind as his subject (in his anthology of poetry, 'Night of my Flight'), he still imbibes elements of history in poems like "Gani Fawehinmi", "Kudi Abiola", "Ajibola Ige!" and the like.

Odia Ofeimun in "Go Tell the Generals" explores from the perspective of history the rule of the military Junta in Nigeria. Play texts like "Trials of Zedan Kimathi", "Fate of a Cockroach" and "Ovoramwen Nogbaisi" all of African origin made history their reference points. Thus, what should make prose (fiction in particular) not to draw from history which is a fertile land for literary resources?

The hunch that has suddenly appeared on the back of the act of concocting elements of fiction with history is Criticism.

Factions or historical fictions suffer a lot of criticism on being stereotypic. The notion that all historical works are works with the subjects that have been explored completely and therefore should be dumped for some other subjects is wrong.

What matters or counts here is not the subject! What then is it? STYLE.

Adichie has told her story about the 1967 Nigeria Civil War, likewise Akachi Ezeigbo in "Roses and Bullets". Let's give room for some comparison. Did they explore to the same depth or in the same way this thematic preoccupation? These authors have come out with the same outputs. Readers of the recently mentioned are subjected to experiencing works of different styles and modes of narration. Creativity is highly exalted in Literature and neither of these works fall short of it.

Moreover, there is no world as full and free as that of Literature. It is for this reason that a writer may decide to make all his or her works revolve round the same subject or decide to pick from different or diverse spheres of existence.

To cap it on "Literature and History", let's note that with no "Weep not Child", "Things Fall Apart", "Purple Hibiscus" and the rest, how does the African youthful mind see the route that has led to the present or read the map that reveals the future? Remember, Literature can build as well as murder. When it becomes silent on history or fails to appreciate what is now called "Stereotype", it clinches the latter attribute.


Something New; Not Literary Puritanism

Literature is fast becoming the Plymouth and Boston of this contemporary world and the protestant are…

Critics! One thing they should stand for is not what most of them stand for. Using the words of Brutus, a Shakespearean character, they are meant to be "purgers" and not "murderers".

In the course of "purging" or criticizing, critics tend to be extra-ordinarily fastidious. They therefore fail to look at the profundity of some of their arguments.

Really, new things need to spring up from African fiction but should we make ourselves blind to what needs to be emphasized the more in our Literature? In an Africa where corruption thrives like evil in the darkness, shouldn't the writers of this generation explore the theme in their works?



In poetry, when a word or line keeps recurring, an effect is being created – EMPHASIS. That Lola Shoneyin makes "The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives" a feminist novel just as Buchi Emecheta's "Joys of Motherhood" is for one reason. The Africa that existed decades ago has not changed in any way…


The Society: Literature's Brooding Mother

Literature experiences transformation only if the society embraces transformation. Then why should "stereotype" be a thing of the past when it is as appreciated as it is appalling in Africa? When America Literature is taken as a case study, it becomes overt how the society can influence its Literature. The gods of metamorphosis which the American society appeased brought or resulted in the Literature of colonial America, Literature of Reason and Revolution, Literature of Romanticism, Realism and that of the 21st century which are the different ages in American Literature.


Whenever this subject crops up, one's tent is better pitched on a wall higher than Jericho's.


© Oyebanji Ayo.

He could be reached via

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Mind on New Year Resolution

Two things herald every New Year in colourful and appreciable circumstances; festivity and people's renewed determination to make things better. People's optimism that always assume gay transformation with the arrival of a New Year has become one tradition so globally celebrated aside the joyous new beginning of another year itself. The interesting factor is in how people have made culture out of New Year Resolutions that are always wrapped up in numerous species of aspirations; new attitudes, new strength, better working conditions, more working relationships and the lines go on different individuals' lists.

I had a feeling of being a fraud when everything I was planning for the New Year was in sharp contrast with the manner numerous  people were doing theirs. Everybody seemed to have something to write down and followed strictly like a manual. How I hate manual! However, the reflection of admiration for the frenzy most people were jumping into was in how enthusiasm was being hooked up with the unseen labour that was to go into making the strings of personally aspired ambition a living action.

After my tour of the cyberspace through several blogs, I was blackmailed into putting down a typed paragraphed list of targets for the New Year too. One to call my own at least. A simple initiation into the culture syndrome you can call that. I was made to understand that one will have to do it with a kind of spirit. The spirit that believes that things noted down on the New Year Resolution list are accomplishable no matter the odds that may await them and the effort needed.
In no time my MS word was up and running as I effortless and religiously, taking details into every needs, typed my bespoken Resolutions. It was quite an easy task I thought to myself when I was through in less than 20 minutes. The list was long and its execution carefully tagged with every day of the new calendar year.

Half way down the year in June, everything only felt lukewarm and drab. Every day I have my list defiantly accusing me of the passion I had given into putting it down, which incredibly pales with the one I'm putting into the actualization-plan. My resolution has now turn the other side of my personality; a disgusting streak of unattainable dreams. The only life my Resolution list now possesses is in the printed ink on it. I try to ignore it and hide behind study materials that are strewn over my desk but when it is rifled by the faded wind from my window, the sound of cries for strength thuds down to my heart. If my list were to be so far rated, some I have been meticulously following, others; irritations that make my soul itch. And I do question myself; can't I have some pats for those things that are working out? The truth is that I never indeed saw beyond the fever that goes into joining the charade.

Not to discredit the resoluteness some people harbor in the tradition of capping every dream with New Year Resolution, making New Year Resolution is more of hypocrisy than the step-to-step guide it is primarily meant to be. Eight months down the New Year, the noise on it has tuned low and will only become high again at the end of the Year when there will be mourning of dashed hopes and joy for another rehash that is to become the guide of another year.

I may have been blabbing because as I type this; my notion of this subject matter is still muddled with unfulfilled hopes of things called dreams. If you want to counter my belief of the hypocrisy that goes so much with everybody into making New Year Resolutions, you may as well tell me if you have come across one whose list carries a whole lot of practicalities than feverish impetuousness. As for me, I'm still waiting to read a list that will state how Resolutions can be meant in a pragmatic way.

You may also need to be informed; my New Year Resolution polices me still, though I'm unfaithful to it.

Have you made some things on that special list too? Do you think yours might be bearing fruits? Then, talk about it. It will be good to know…

< >