Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Fattening of Gabon from "Say You Are One of Them" by Uwem Akpan

"Fattening for Gabon" is Uwem Akpan's second story (nouvella length at 130 pages) in the collection, "Say You're One of Them".

It starts off innocently enough with a young (10-year old) boy narrating how his maternal uncle offers to take him and his 5-year old sister to live with him on the border of Benin and Gabon because the boy's parents are dying of AIDS and too poor and sick to look after the children, but the story very gradually starts to take on a sinister tone which gets completely brutal towards the end.

“Selling your child or nephew could be more difficult than selling other kids”: that is the blunt line with which “Fattening for Gabon” begins. I wish so much Akpan hadn't used that opening line because it really does give it all away. The story is so beautifully written that had Akpan waited to reveal this, say about halfway through the story, I think the reader would have been shaken to the core (and which reader doesn't mind being shaken?) Anyway, what's done is done and this other child-narrated story succeeds in provoking the whole gamut of emotions, from incredulity to disgust and from confusion to absolute fear in the reader. For me, the biggest issue here was child manipulation, I could have screamed at all of the adults in this story and cheerfully lined up against a wall to be shot. I know, I know some of you might think I am over reacting but you know, when Uwem Akpan was interviewed he stated that all these stories were drawn from real people he met and counselled in his years as a Jesuit Priest. Just to know that there are adults like this makes my blood boil.

Again, as in the previous story, one of Akpan's strengths is in how he slips into the skins of his characters no matter what gender or age they might be. He also has such a gift for description and narration. There are several scenes that stand out for me in this story, the main one being the Thanksgiving service at church that Fofo Kpee(the uncle) organizes in order to give thanks for his (ill-begotten) gain. Akpan describes the procession, the dancing, the characters, their clothes, the gifts, the priest's invocations, the offertory to god and the elation the family feels to be given so much importance on that day, so vividly it is literally like watching the service unfold on a cinematic screen. What a writer this man is!

Something I liked very much (and that's probably because I listened to this on audio as well as read it in print) is Akpan's frequent use of the local dialect in the dialogue. Four colloquial languages were used in this particular story...English, French
Idaatcha and Egun sometimes in the same paragraph. I have spoken to people who found that distracting...not me!!! I guess knowing a little French does help speed the read along.

Last, but not least...the title is very conversation-worthy...but that, I'm afraid, will be a whole different post!

If you would like to read an excerpt from "Fattening of Gabon"..please go

Or you might want to watch the Oprah Book Club interview and book discussion with the author


Susan Abraham said...

You are industrious & passionate with your clever reviews, Angie. You stay an inspiration. xx

Lotus Reads said...

Aw, thanks Suse! I've been on a blogging hiatus for too long! I am getting back, but slowly! I haven't visited any blogs (except yours) for months now so I am not really sure what is going on in the blogosphere at the moment. All I know is that I have suddenly been (re)possessed by the reading bug and I have been devouring story after story, book after book! Hope the bug continues to rage within me! :)

Sanjay said...

Thank you Lotus, for a wonderful review. Sadly people like some of the adults you describe in this review do exist.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanj

Yes, sadly, they are very much alive and well. Just wanted to point out though...Akpan does not judge the adults in his novel and sometimes the reader comes away feeling sorry for everyone in the story, kids and adults alike.

N. Amma Twum-Baah said...

Perfect! These are exactly my thoughts as I read 'Fattening for Gabon" this very moment. I think Akpan is a talented writer. His style is his own. I am having too much fun marvelling at his crafty use of words and sentences to even pay too much attention to the stories:-)

Lotus Reads said...

Welcome,welcome! How wonderful to have another reader! I so agree with you, Uwam Akpan's writing just blew me away, I cannot wait for his next offering. His stories, too, so overwhelmed me(in a good way ofcourse) that I had to devote a blog post to each individual story, something I have never done before. Lovely to have you here, please visit again!

Anonymous said...

My employer's mom gave me this book and I kept if for a year without reading it as it didnt look that interesting at first. But when i started reading it i immediately fell in love with it and i read it every i went. I love the way he uses his words as you read aloud you can actually feel the charecter.