Say You’re One of Them

Buddha-killer Scott Korb has written about everything from hunting to basketball in his search for faith. Now he takes a look at Nigerian-born Jesuit Uwem Akpan’s new book of stories, Say You’re One of Them, for America, the national Catholic weekly. Akpan has long wanted to write about Africa’s children, and now he has, facing the realities of their tough lives.

“When they ask you…say you’re one of them, OK?” a Tutsi mother tells her daughter, Monique, in the collection’s final story, “My Parents’ Bedroom.” “Who?” the girl asks. “Anybody,” her mother replies.Why? the reader thinks. Why say you’re one of them? Monique narrates the answer, which might have come from the mouth of any of Akpan’s children: “We want to live; we don’t want to die,” Monique concludes. “I must be strong.” Sitting with them, the reader—like, it seems, the author—wants to keep the kids from death. So we read slowly, knowing that new violence, starvation and murder might follow on every page. Death is all around, often, though not always, mercifully just out of view. And all these children want is to live.

Akpan, who was ordained a Jesuit, searches for God in these stories. Korb writes:

Asked to look, when we do we cannot help but feel bad for these children of Africa. We want to care for them. Yet there is no moralizing in Say You’re One of Them. For Akpan, religion offers no simple solutions and, while playing its role in “all the stupid wars on the African continent,” has proven to do more harm than good. Still, God is never the problem and never to blame. Akpan hopes, in fact, that despite all our human frailty—his own, no doubt, included—God’s compassion can be revealed “in the faces of the people” he writes about. And it is. Which is why, page after terrible page, we continue to sit with them. Until, time and time again, they run.

Read the whole piece here.