This promises to be an exciting week for fiction, especially for the literary world. Although 2008 has provided a steady stream of good literature from both well-established and new writers, these new fiction books have not been nearly as exciting as some of the big titles from last year. That's not to say there hasn't been anything worthwhile, and the year is still young as far as the book industry is concerned.
It's with this in mind that I am hopeful about two new fiction books coming out this week. The first book, Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan is a short story collection that takes readers to the heart and soul of modern Africa, a continent that struggles daily with poverty and violence. Each story is narrated by a child, forcing us to see how turmoil in Africa (caused by adults, naturally) affects the least of us.
About every major problem that Africa currently faces is mentioned in this collection, and as we get inside the minds of Akpan's child narrators, the damaging effects of war and poverty become all too real. In "An Ex-Mas Feast," for example, a family in Nairobi, Kenya struggles to pay for their son's school supplies when his twelve-year-old sister takes up prostitution in the streets to help pay for his books. In the end, it's still not enough for the young boy to afford school, and Akpan forces us to realize there are no easy solutions in solving poverty.
Akpan's short stories are also moving because of his prose. Alan Cheuse of the Chicago Tribune calls Akpan's prose "as translucent a style as I've read in a long while," and from the excerpt I've read, I would have to agree. You can read an excerpt of "An Ex-Mas Feast" and hear Akpan read an excerpt from "Fattening for Gabon" at NPR's Summer Books 2008 section.
Equally as intriguing in fiction this week is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, a coming-of-age story about a mute boy (Edgar) who helps raise a rare breed of dogs (the Sawtelles, as they are known) with his family on their Wisconsin farm. The story involves plenty of family conflict, and according to many of the articles about Wroblewski's book, the story mimics William Shakespeare's Hamlet. I can only imagine what might happen to Edgar in this book, especially if it's a literal interpretation of Hamlet. It's not the first time an American novelist has used a Shakespeare tragedy to fashion a modern tragedy.