There are stories you read that make you aware that you’ve known nothing, you’ve experienced nothing, you’ve suffered nothing. The stories that make your own sorrow look so meagre you feel ashamed to have named those feelings ‘sufferings’ at all. When you think your heartache is biggest of all, you come across a book, a story, a piece of writing and it makes you aware that your misery is nothing at all. There are people who have suffered more, suffered greatly, suffered ceaselessly, and have suffered pure evil.
Say You Are One of Them was one of those books that changed my whole perspective about life. This was the book that changed my thinking, taught me to differentiate between the real SORROW and a mere DISCOMFORT. This was the book that taught me to appreciate my life — as it was, as it is — a good life. This was the book that taught me to be happy because I had so much to be happy about.
In each narrative, each told from the perspective of a child from a different African country, Akpan: intense and vivid and yet simple, portrays the terror, the fear, the dreadfulness of the mundane details of everyday life. Say You Are One of Them is a collection of five stories — two of which are long enough to fall in the category of novella — of family and friendship, of betrayal and redemption. Akpan simply and straightforwardly emphasizes the tenacity and perseverance of fragile children. The horrors that each of those small children go through exist outside the realm of anything logical.
All five of book’s stories are captivating, but “Fattening for Gabon” is the one that left a lasting impression on me. It’s one of the longest as well: over hundred pages and resembles a dark fairy tale in its slow and sinister build up toward an evil climax. The protagonists, a 10-year-old boy who, along with his 5-year-old sister, are sent to live with their uncle because their parents are dying of AIDS. Uncle makes a deal with devil and sell them to become merchandises in human trafficking network. Since an emaciated body will not achieve much at market, both of them are fed on feasts for the slave trade. Akpan uses a first person narrative in it; the story is told from the perspective of 10 year old boy and that’s where it drives its power as well. There is a strong disparity between the child’s utterly dim perceptions of what awaits them and us readers’ adult awareness that something evil is lurking in the shadow.
I read this book before I become a mother. And I’m glad for that. There’s no way I would pick a book where small children are sucked down into horror of pure evil and the evil triumphs.
It left me depressed — for weeks. It left me exhausted and spent. I remember finishing it and then I went on to read Mists of Avalon which was equally exhausting but in a different way. I remember I was in this gloomy mood for weeks. I don’t remember how I came out of that melancholic slumber. I must have read something funny like The Princess Bride or something utterly sweet like Anne of Green Gables. Be careful if you decide to read this book. You will not forget it for a long time and you’re damned to remember it.