Thursday, September 17, 2009
While I’d intended to write only about the classics and the forgotten and the out of print until I got my proverbial sea-legs with this blog, I need to leave that aside for today. Please forgive in advance any sweeping statements or generalizations I may make, but I hope that after you read this book, you’ll feel the same way.
When speculation about the next Oprah Book Club pick began a few weeks ago, there were a handful of details which were broadly available to those who cared to look for them. Who the publisher was, the length and price of said book, and the fact that the choice was like no other that Oprah had put her book club seal on were reported on in the publishing trades I read daily, and I filed away this information.
Once it was confirmed that the book was going to be from Little, Brown and Company, I crossed my fingers and hoped that Uwem Akpan’s SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM would be the choice. According to a small piece in the media today, it is.
I first read two of the stories in this collection, ‘An Ex-mas Feast’ and ‘My Parents’ Bedroom’ when they were published in The New Yorker. When I came across them in this collection, I immediately remembered specific details and felt the pulse-racing upset I’d felt when I first read them. There was not only intellectual memory, but sense memory associated with the stories. To have that clarity and emotional response years after the first encounter was unexpected and spoke to me of the lasting, powerful, and important nature of Akpan’s storytelling.
SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM is a collection of short stories, set across Africa which address the difficult issues which are facing the young people across that continent. Genocide, AIDS, orphans, child prostitution, lack of education, and slavery are some of the issues contained within its pages.
Is it easy reading? No. Is it important and necessary? Absolutely. In my mind, this is a title which needs to be in every library—both school and public—across the United States and around the world.
And not to make light of the stories or the issues, be prepared to take action after reading the collection. You’ll surely want to do something: trick or treat for UNICEF, write letters for Amnesty International, donate to Doctors Without Borders, support a local Peace Corps volunteer.
That’s my greatest hope: that this book will galvanize readers to care enough to do something for the children the world over who need our help.