Uwem Akpan

by Louise Erdrich

Uwem Akpan's forthcoming (June 2008) collection of stories, Say You're One Of Them, published by Little, Brown and Company, is an beautiful, bitter, compelling read. The savagely strange juxtapositions in these stories are grounded by the loving relationships between brothers and sisters forced to survive in a world of dreamlike horror. Open the book at any page, as in divination, and a stunning sentence will leap out. For instance: It was before the new democratic government placed a ban on mass transportation of corpses from one end of the country to the other. The word mass hides in the sentence until you're halfway down the page. Then, WHACK. It is from the story Luxurious Hearses.

From My Parents' Bedroom: If he gave even one franc, his bad money would swallow all the good contributions, like the sickly, hungry cows in Pharoah's dream.

Children are sold into sexual slavery, children breathe glue in the shelter of a mother's hand to kill hunger pangs, children witness a father forced the kill his beloved wife, their lovely Tutsi mother -- these are newspaper facts molded by Akpan's sure touch into fictional works of great power.

Mr. Akpan grew up in Nigeria, was educated by Jesuit priests, and is himself an ordained Jesuit. He received an MFA in writing at the University of Michigan, and is or will be teaching at a Jesuit mission in Zimbabwe.

There is a map of Africa with the countries where these stories are set marked out. This week marks the fourteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Nicholas Kristoff writes eloquently of where we are now in his today's New York Times O-Ed piece.

Read Mr. Akpan's book to understand Kristoff's urgent message on Darfur/Sudan through the eyes of a child.