(Image via The Huffington Post)
By OBERT MADONDO
For me at least, Oprah Winfrey has ruined a publishing week that would have ended on a high note with the release of Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol”.
The Talk Show host chose Nigerian Jesuit priest Uwem Akpan’s “Say You Are One of Them”, a collection of five short stories, for her 63rd pick for the Oprah Book Club.
Welcome to Africa viewed through stereotypes.
First, the stories are set in well-known recent African centers of distress: Rwanda, Kenya, Benin, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
Second, the subject matter offers an Africa that is a wasteland of poverty, makeshift shanties, refugees, religious conflict, child slavery, violence, child prostitution, corruption and tribal conflict.
“Say You Are One of Them” is a collection of fictionalized well-known African headlines and stereotypes.
But I’ve nothing against Akpan, who studied creative writing at the University of Michigan. “Say You Are One of Them” is his debut book and Oprah Winfrey’s first ever short fiction pick.
As an African, I actually applaud Akpan for tackling the harsh realities of life for children in Africa today. He gave the children a voice by telling the stories from a child’s point of view.
Oprah should have considered the effect of a narrative that reinforces stereotypes before she chose this book. She shouldn’t have forgotten that her word is the word of God.
With her endorsement, literature lovers and Oprah’s fans in particular, will buy and read this book in their thousands. In the innocent reader’s mind, the stories will represent both African reality and fiction.
Surely, Oprah could have done a lot better than participate in this clear reinforcement of Western stereotypes about Africa. While there are overwhelming problems in much of the continent, there is also boundless hope. Love flourishes too.
There is fiction that celebrates these and other positive African attributes. Oprah just didn’t search hard enough for it.