- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (Jun 9 2008)
- Language: English
The story, set in Nigeria, illuminates the political situation of Nigeria, the poverty of the people in the Nigerian Delta, the tension between the Muslims in the North and the Christians in the south and what happens when innocent people get caught in between.
After you read this longish nouvella you come away, seeing with new eyes why every now and again Nigeria plunges into Muslim-Christian riots and why, despite all the oil that Nigeria possesses, its people are so poor.
Our protagonist in this story is a 16-year old boy called Jubril who is forced to head south (towards the Christian part of Nigeria) after riots broke out in his very-Muslim city of Khamfa which is in the north. Ordinarily Jubril may not have had to run away, but when his own Muslim friends turned against him for having a Christian father (whom he had never seen or known) he decided that if he was interested in saving his life it would be prudent for him to leave his town and Muslim mother (and her family) and head south to be reunited with his Christian dad.
The story of his journey from the North to South in the midst of some of the worst religious riots Nigeria has ever seen with a host of wonderfully- colourful characters that are his bus companions; his fears and insecurities about heading to a part of the country that is so alien to him and his perpetual fear of being found out as a Muslim in bus full of Christian refugees is riveting, suspenseful and unputdownable! The reader is as tense as Jubril who is forced to try and blend in with the other people on the bus, a task made much more difficult because his right hand was lopped off when he was arrested for stealing a goat months before.
As always, Akpan's writing holds you spellbound. Most of the story takes place on the bus with occasional flashbacks to Jubrail's life in Khamfa before he had to flee. As a reader you are privy to all the conversations that place on the bus...the fears, egos, anger and other emotions that the passengers bring with them; power dynamics between the well off and the not so well off,the sick and the healthy. Many a time, like Oprah, I got so claustrophobic from being on that bus I had this strong urge to jump off and yet, the writing and the thought of what might happen next kept me glued to the pages.
"An Ex-Mas Feast" was audacious, "The Fattening of Gabon" was downright sad, but "Luxurious Hearses" is gruesome. You're going to need a strong stomach to endure the second half of the novel. Gruesome it might be but at no point do you get the feeling the author is aiming for sensationalism, instead, you come away feeling deeply for the characters, the victims and the persecutors alike, for you come to understand that each man is simply doing all he can to survive.
Since each of the five stories in this book are set in different countries in Africa, you might want to use Howard French's "A Continent for the Taking" or even Richard Dowden's "Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles" as a companion read. I found both very helpful in explaining Africa to me.