Say You’re One of Them is a collection of short stories intended to tell the plight of children in Africa. It is a heart-wrenching depiction of modern day life, but it is also intended to show their spirit, their hope and their resilience.
With the opening paragraph, the reader is transported to Kenya, where a young girl chooses a life of prostitution in order to help her younger siblings. The parents are still part of the family, but drugs and alcohol have taken over their lives, usurping the place that their children should have held.
The second story Fattening for Gabon tells of an uncle who would sell his wards into slavery. Akpan’s verbal finesse takes a dark subject and makes it bearable to read. I truly appreciated the choice of inferences, rather than a direct ugly approach.
As I read these stories, I couldn’t help but question, “don’t Africans love their children?” Of course they must, but as in our country, there are children who suffer from neglect and abuse. The difference between the United States and Africa is, however, vast. African parents agonize about keeping their children from violence, wonder how they are going to feed them, and strive to given their children hope for the future.
The author says that the world looks away from what is happening in Africa. That may be true, but the solutions are not easy. Violence and disease have ripped apart families, and family is where values are taught. Young adult males have grown up without fathers, they are subjected to violence, and have been taught that might makes right. The NGOs that help in African countries understand education is the key. Young Africans must be taught these values in the classrooms, but it will not happen overnight.
In the meantime, the Western world can educate itself about Africa. That’s why books such as this one are important.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2008