In her debut collection of short stories, Chinelo Okparanta takes a look at what it’s like to be a woman in Nigeria. Okparanta, who lived in the African country until she was 10, tells tales of women struggling to survive within the confines of a culture that has not been (and is still not) especially kind to their gender, and although the stories might be fictional, there is clearly a lot of truth behind them. In “America” she focuses on a nameless narrator who has fallen in love with a female co-worker. Her family worries about what will happen if they get caught together, touching on the world-views of the country’s politicians, who in May of this year passed a law banning gay marriage and calling for 10-year prison sentences for any “public show” of same-sex affection. Okparanta pays great attention to detail, making it easy to get caught up in the problems of these women who must fend for themselves. Like the protagonist in “Runs Girl”—a Nigerian phrase for “gold-digger”—who sells her body to help pay her mother’s medical bills. This woman, like many in Okparanta’s collection, makes a decision based on survival and lives to regret her choice. Okparanta never shows disdain for any of these characters, not even the protagonist in “Story, Story!,” who talks of poisoning a pregnant woman to steal the baby she cannot have. Instead, she writes with compassion and strength for these nameless, faceless women who are unable to defend their own actions.
Happiness, Like Water, 14.95 , Houghton Miffin Harcourt/Marniner
This review appears in the Aug/Sept 2013 issue of BUST Magazine with Janelle Monáe. Subscribe now.
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