Oprah Winfrey’s latest book club pick is very different from any of her other selections. This book of five-short stories is a work of art. Say You’re One of Them by 38-year-old Nigerian Jesuit Priest, Uwem Akpan, is a group of fictional stories told in the first person by children. This must read book may be in the fiction aisle, but the stories are too sadly a reality.
Akpan originally wrote the book for Africans, but soon realized that he needed to explain the culture and the lifestyle of these children in more detail in order for outsiders to understand. This deeply rich cultural experience with a mix of African, English, and French languages resulted in an award winning book.
The book has won The Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best first book (African Region) 2009, Pen Beyond Margins Award 2009, and it was a finalist in the L.A. Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.
The book takes you into the world of human trafficking, child prostitution, poverty, and religious war. The fact that it is told in the voice of a child makes the book all the more gut wrenching. This is not a feel good book, but the reader leaves each story viewing the children as heroes.
The first story is entitled Ex-mas Feast. This is told from eight year-old, Jigana’s perspective. His 12-year-old sister, Maisha, is being forced into prostitution to help put food on the table. The children are starving and they are made to sniff glue to get rid of hunger pains. Jigana begs on the streets for money with the baby. Each child in the family has their role and they know what that role is.
"I would chat her up on the pavement no matter what rags I was wearing.
An eight-year-old boy wouldn’t get in the way when she was waiting for a customer.
We knew how to pretend we were strangers—just a street kid and a prostitute talking."
My Parent’s Bedroom is the second installment that was chosen for the Caine Prize for African Writing. This story is about a young 9-year-old girl named Monique. She is very pretty and spoiled, but her world is completely destroyed over Rwanda’s civil war. She wonders where her mother has been going. Monique discovers that her mother and many others have been hiding in the ceiling tiles of the master bedroom while her father has joined a murderous mob in order to keep the violence from their home.
The saddest part about the book is many of those committing the violence are known by Monique. People she sees in everyday life, including those involved in her church.
"I go into the parlor and turn on the florescent lights.
My eyes hurt. People are banging on our front door.
I see the blades of machetes and axes stabbing through the door,
making holes in the plywood. Two windows are smashed,
and rifle butts and udufuni are poking in. I don’t know what’s going on.
The attackers can’t get in through the windows with their guns and small hoes,
because they are covered with metal bars.
Afraid, I squat on the floor, with my hands covering my head,
Till the people outside stop and pull back."
Fattening for Gabon is probably the hardest to read when an uncle sells his 10-year-old nephew and his 5-year-old niece into the sex slave industry for a motorcycle. There is a part in the story that completely reveals the reality of human trafficking and what the uncle did to prepare these children for sexual service. The reader must prepare their heart before reading this all too realistic view of what children in sex trafficking endure.
When referring to those who captured him, the little boy says,
"I felt I had learned evil from them. I had learned to smile and be angry at the same time."
Luxurious Hearses is the longest story in the book. It brings out the Christian-Muslim conflict that exists in Nigeria. A young Muslim boy, Jubril, is on the run from northern Nigeria where his neighbors are attacking his family. His only way out is to ride a bus full of Christians to southern Nigeria and he has to hide his faith.
This one is probably the hardest to get through because of its length. Many times the reader will feel like they just want to get off the bus, but it is worth staying on until the end. The end is a shocker and Oprah was quoted as saying that at the end of Luxurious Hearses, it “left me gasping.”
Children as young as eight-years-old are smuggled across state lines or brought to the United States from other countries for sex trafficking. There are recruiters in schools, across America preying on children. Many of them are never found.
There are many organizations and individuals who are fighting and rescuing our children from the these unthinkable crimes.
Love 146 is an organization that is opening up safe houses across the world for young sex slaves.
Gracehaveenhouse.org is a newly formed safe house in central Ohio for sex trafficked children. Ohio is not the only state. Many are forming these safe houses because of the amount of children who are being kidnapped into the world of slavery and never found. If they are, it takes a lifetime to recover.
If you suspect trafficking in the United States, call 888-373-7888 or you can go to humantrafficking.org.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 offers new protection and services to victims. This has also allowed for a federal level task force to be established.
The U.S. began researching women and children trafficking back in 1994. It has been reported in all 50 states.
For sexually exploited or abused minors call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Hotline at 1-800-The-Lost or go to the tip line.
Children are being abused every day. The movie Precious, just out in theaters, touches on this in a way that Hollywood never has before. Oprah is one of the producers on this film. To read more about it or to learn about the book that the movie was based on go to this site.
To help restore victims of human trafficking go to the Administration for Children's and Families website.
Joshua's Mission is a Christian, non-profit organization that is dedicated to ending human trafficking and providing restoration for victims. You can find them on Facebook.
Another great site to check out is Abolish slavery.org.