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Monday, August 10, 2009

Elsewhere, This Same Earth: My Reading Room

At the height of the summer season, with nonstop events throughout the weeks, once in a while I yield to the temptation to slip away for an hour or so. A quiet start to Monday morning gave me a chance to pick up a book of short stories I’d tried last summer and found too “difficult,” as a friend of mine says of documentary movies with graphic violence and hopeless themes. So, not exactly “escape” reading. That the stories in Nigerian author and University of Michigan MFA Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them are hard to read is attributable to several factors, but the deepest tragedies are those suffered by children whose childhoods are torn apart by ethnic, religious, political, military and violence. These beautifully written stories, however, can serve as a reality check for Americans. We are too easily lost in complacency or in thinking that we are somehow, because our economy is suffering and our futures uncertain in ways we had not anticipated it would become, with jobs lost to the Third World, now the world’s largest victim group. But it is not as a comparison with the United States that these stories are most important. They capture, with an almost lyrical, cinematic inevitability, the chaos of a culture at a time in which, in the words of Chinhua Achebe, “things fall apart.” And yet, occasionally hope glimmers through.
Having lived through the ordeal in Mallam Abdullahi’s house and having just heard the testimony of Yohanna Tijani about the generous southern Christians, Jubri felt that with heroic people like this, his nation would rise above all types of divisiveness. Instinctively, in his yearning for consolation, he envisioned the different peoples of his country connecting at a deep, primordial level, where one’s life was irreversibly connected to one’s neighbor’s, like a child’s to its mother’s.

I won’t tell how that story, “Luxurious Hearses,” ends, and it will take a long while before I know what to think about the reality portrayed in this book. What I can say now is that the writing is brilliant.

Later: It’s a warm summer midafternoon, with blue sky and high humidity. Here indoors, Sarah lies doggo in her chair, the fan hums, half a dozen visitors of varying ages sit and stand around reading books (the public library is closed on Mondays), and a peaceful contentment fills the air. Once again I realize how fortunate I am to be here.


Gerry said...

It's a great gift to know that we're happy now, rather than to realize only later that we were happy then. Dog Ears is a great place for that. It's only fair that you should feel the contentment yourself.

Anonymous said...

....and we are fortunate to have you here.

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you both.