This novel is a collection of 3 short stories and 2 novellas set in different African Countries. I chose to read all the short stories first, rather than in the prescribed order and this may have influenced my inability to complete this book. I’ll explain…
The first short story, ‘An Ex-mas Feast” takes us through a day in the life of a street family living in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. This was a difficult story to read, I kept pausing at intervals to thank God for my life. The events are narrated from the point of view of a child, all the stories are; and while it is gritty and horrific, I feel the goal is not to elicit sympathy. The story manages to be funny and the telling of it is proud (for want of a better word). I enjoyed the little flashbacks merged with the main narrative which is basically about getting the boy his school fees.
The second short story, ‘What language is this?’, is set in Ethiopia during a religious crises. 2 little girls, bffs, with parents of different faiths wake up one morning to find they are not allowed to be friends anymore. The fact that these stories are told by children brings a unique perspective to the issues and shows just how ridiculous the adults are being, to be honest. Why can’t we all just get along?
The last story, which completely blew my mind and made every other story pale in comparison, ‘My Parents’ Bedroom’, also the titular story takes us through the madness that is an ethnic war. In this day and age. Also told by a child, born to patents from the opposing tribes. To think that this has been the reality of children in this world is horrifying. To say I love this story feels wrong but it has to be the best written story in this book. Which explains why it was placed last. It is heart wrenchingly beautiful and terrible at the same time. Uwem Akpan really captures the confusion and complete lack of intuition of the child. This story was a traumatic experience for me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after I read it.
So why didn’t I finish this book? Because after the emotional roller-coaster of the last story, I could not deal with the extremely slooow pacing of the novellas. I’ll admit I only started reading ‘Fattening for Gabon’, which isn’t a bad story in itself but if it was a movie, I could go cook pounded yam (from scratch) and egusi soup and come back to find the characters in the same spot I left them. I just couldn’t do it, it was taking too long to get anywhere and I was bored out of my mind. Then ‘Homegoing‘ came while I was struggling with it and that was the end of that.
Maybe one day, I’ll finish this book. Have you read this book? Was the pacing problematic for you too? Which was your favorite story?