Thursday, April 10, 2008

Uwem Akpan -- June 2008

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.

45 comments:

Reg and said...

I would like to share some thoughts about the new Louise Erdrich novel, The Plague of Doves. I do this with great caution, aware that with publication coming in May, most will not have seen it and it would not be fair to reveal the outcome of the various story lines in the book. I have a copy now only because until very recently my wife was a bookstore owner and as such we received an advanced reader’s copy.

As with Erdrich’s other recent novels, as I went through the book I kept a crazy quilt chart of the relationships of the key characters, always a process that engages me. (Historical reference at the library or on the internet is also a frequent itch for me; who was this Mustache Maude anyway?) These relationships unfold through a succession of stories featuring the same characters in different situations at different times. Erdrich has honed this structure, taking it, I believe, to a new level of sophistication and engagement for the reader.

The ability to create a novel that holds together as a whole out of these multiple stories is quite a creative achievement. The gifted and accomplished E. Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes is structured as a succession of the stories of people who successively come to posess a particular accordion, but the people are not particularly related. There the narrative thrust that is so critical seemed attenuated; the multiple stories did not seem to add up to a satisfying overall story.

When we experience a singular story, even one with flashbacks, this narrative thrust and unity is less an issue for me. I think of Hemingway’s Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls. In Wendell Barry’s quietly intense novel, Jaber Crow, we find the multiple stories over a long period – but here one character holds center stage. Marilynne Robinson’s heralded Gilead has a somewhat similar structure, the life and soul of Reverend John Ames unfolding page after beautiful page.

But with Plague of Doves the genius is to take a structure of multiple stories and multiple key characters and through their vividness and the power of their stories and connections create a strong overall narrative thrust. And we are engaged, satisfied, richer for it.


At times these individual stories (several of which I realized I had previously read in The New Yorker) made me question their possibility – could they really have happened? Could the banker John Wildstrand really have conspired with teenager Billy Peace to kidnap his own wife as part of a fake ransom plot? Could there really be this many complex interrelationships among this many characters over this many generations? This would not pose a question if the overall novel was written at some other level of realism (fantasy,magical realism,whatever), but at what I perceive as the somewhat grounded realism in Plague of Doves it did occur as a question for me.

As I reflected on this, I concluded that it really isn’t an issue. Think of Eliot Spitzer. Also, I’ve never lived in the Plague of Doves setting- Pluto, North Dakota, with a stable, smaller circle of people in a relatively more isolated community. I also think of some of the improbable synchronicity in the closing of our own bookstore early this year; the very last book in the store (the others had already left with astonishing speed), a book about Down Syndrome children, was bought by a special needs teacher who was familiar with it and had been wanting it.

When we think of these things, what is possible or probable to us changes. Life is full of improbable stories.

Two flat-out probables for me are that The Plague of Doves will be more then well received by readers and critics and that Louise Erdrich will continue to provide us with mind-, heart- and soul-nourishing characters and stories.

Rachel said...

Is there any reliable online list of Louise Erdrich readings/appearances as she promotes her new novel? She's not listed as touring on the HarperCollins website (and they have failed me before with misprinted dates!).

EmmieJDriskell said...

so nice blog..................................................

健康保寶 said...

以簡單的行為愉悅他人的心靈,勝過千人低頭禱告。........................................

龐克搖滾 said...

青春一逝不復返,事業一失難有成。........................................

孟穎 said...

I love readding, and thanks for your artical...................................................

惠萍茂鴻 said...

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明宏明宏 said...

我們唯一需要恐懼的事,是恐懼本身........................................

茂恒 said...

思想與理論,貴呼先於行動,但行動較思想或理論更高貴..............................

東慶天芳 said...

籃子打水空費力,經驗必需靈活用。......................................................

修強 said...

Nice post ~ 3Q..............................................................

淑惠 said...

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淑娟 said...

你不能決定生命的長度,但你可以控制它的寬度..................................................................

張家榮 said...

要持續更新下去喲!!祝你心情愉快.............................................................

李哲維 said...

這麼好的部落格,以後看不到怎麼辦啊!!......................................................................

江婷 said...

卡爾.桑得柏:「除非先有夢,否則一切皆不成。」共勉!.................................................................                           

玫友 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

戴昀德 said...

It takes all kinds to make a world.............................................................

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一個人的際遇在第一次總是最深刻的,有時候甚至會讓人的心變成永遠的絕緣。............................................................

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楊儀卉 said...

感謝不吝分享您的心得..................................................

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佩璇佩璇 said...

Gods mill grinds slow but sure...................................................

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流浪到這裡,留言謝謝你。............................................................

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良好的開端,已是成功的一半。..................................................

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It is easier to get than to keep it.......................................................................

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百發百中不是一試就成的。..................................................

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一棵樹除非在春天開了花,否則難望在秋天結果。..................................................

于庭吳 said...

知識可以傳授,智慧卻不行。每個人必須成為他自己。. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

家唐銘 said...

人類的聰明,並非以經驗為依歸,而是以接受經驗的行程為依歸。..................................................

仁張張張恬仁張張張恬 said...

Say not all that you know, believe not all that you hear.............................................................

李振婷李振婷 said...

人類的聰明,並非以經驗為依歸,而是以接受經驗的行程為依歸。..................................................

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璇陳陳陳竹 said...

打聲招呼,祝你一切平安!............................................................

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在莫非定律中有項笨蛋定律:「一個組織中的笨蛋,恆大於等於三分之二。」..................................................

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