Monday, November 23, 2009

Short Story Monday: What Language Is That? by Uwem Akpan

Last week's story, "The Ex-mas Feast" from Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, packed such an emotional punch, I found myself thinking about it the rest of the week and wondering how other stories from the collection would compare. Saturday is my short story morning, and the second story in this collection turned out to be more of a novella. Pre-Thanksgiving preparations were underway and there was no time to sit and read 130 pages, so I skipped ahead to the third story.

"What Language is That?" is also concerned with children, but this time the setting is Ethiopia. We are introduced to two young girls who are best friends despite the "faith differences" of their families. When riots break out in the city, communication between the girls is forbidden. It opens:

"Best Friend said she liked your little eyes and lean face and walk and the way you spoke your English. Her name was Selam. You said you liked her dimples and long legs and handwriting. You both liked to eat Smiling Cow toffees. She was the last child in her family; you were an only child. The world was only big enough for the two of you, and your secret language was endless giggles, which made the other kids jealous."

The narrative voice jumped out at me in this story. Neither an "I" first person narrator, nor a "she" third person narrator, this narrator refers to one of the girls as "You" throughout and appears to tell her her own story. Very unusual!

In the end, "What Language Is That?" was as beautiful, well-written and insightful as last week's story, but much less emotionally draining.

See more Short Story Monday posts at The Book Mine Set.


  1. I think this was perhaps the only story in the book that didn't completely make me want to jump off a tall building. The book is brilliant, I will grant that, but boy it does drag one's emotions down!

  2. I'm glad to know that there is at least one less emotionally challenging story in the book.

  3. Sandy - Oh no, this one is the exception?? I may have to wait until after the holidays before attempting another. Last week's story bothered me for days...

    Teddy Rose - According to Sandy, this may be as gentle as it gets!

  4. I like when authors take risks like changing the perspective.

    I would have skipped the 2nd, too. I'm not a fan of the long short story.

  5. I read one of his stories earlier this year, set during the Rwandan genocide. I've been curious to read more, but I wonder how many of the countries he's actually visited, you know?

  6. John Mutford - I'll get back to that novella ...eventually.

    Eva - Was wondering how extensively he's traveled in Africa myself. I'll see what I can find...


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