This book is a collection of five stories, two of which are basically novellas all their own, told from the perspective of children surviving the atrocities of conflict in Africa. The author, Uwem Akpan, was born and raised in Nigeria before moving to the US and getting his MFA in creative writing. The stories lack any sensationalized sentimentality that an outsider writing on this subject may be likely to add. Instead, the situations and characters are just very frank. The brutal events are described with the same tone as the weather. Every story ends abruptly, without any crescendo leading to the tragic stopping point. It doesn’t feel like a conclusion and there is no closure.
Once I realized that every story was going to end this way I was pretty disenchanted with the book. As a reader I do not appreciate these kind of endings, it feels like a scam. Additionally, the dialogue is painful to read as many words are scrambled or in french or nonsense words that you have to skip reading in order to understand the meaning of the sentence. It’s entirely possible that this is very true to life, but it makes for arduous reading.
“Luxurious Hearses” felt exceptionally arduous and was confusing as well. I actually suspect that the editor just skipped it. Being a hyper privileged American it was really hard for me to conceptualize the gravity of the religious/cultural differences that were spurring violence throughout this story. I repeatedly felt “fed up” with even reading about it, which may be exactly why I needed to read it. In many parts of the world these differences are significant and will get you killed, but to me it just seemed petty. Perhaps if I had been oppressed for my religion throughout my life, or seen murders, maybe even of those I loved, in the name of these religions I’d feel pretty differently. One’s background informs interpretation of events, yes? I’m sure I would have developed some hatred too.
Overall, this was not a light, quick, or even enjoyable read but I feel like it has definitely made me think, and to even think about the way I think. The children of “Fattening for Gabon” have been plaguing me for about a week now.