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Walking on Cowrie Shells Collection Review

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

In her debut short story collection, Nana Nkweti writes of dichotomy as she highlights the experience of under-represented Africans everywhere. Whether it be rich vs. poor, religious vs. non-religious, African Americans vs. Africans, or simply tradition vs. progression, Nkweti sets up her stories in a way that allows the reader to see such divisions, but still have a say in who they believe is in the right. With her use of African protagonists as well, she allows us to perceive these characters, not as background actors as we are accustomed to, but as strong central characters who have their own stories to tell.

         After finding out this was Nkweti’s debut collection, I was nothing short of shocked. Never before have I read a collection that has kept such a united theme between the stories within while also making each one so unique. As a white person who has failed to be exposed to more diverse cultures until recently, this book helped open my eyes more than any other. Nkweti was able to break so many conventions people like me are so often taught. “It Takes a Village Some Say” helps to show that adoption isn’t always the savior-like action we so often make it out to be and “The Statistician’s Wife” forces the reader to not see African deaths as just another statistic, but as the beautiful life they once were. Even with the understanding that this book was written to give representation to African minorities, non-African readers are still able to find themselves within the stories as the secondary intended audience. In “Rain Check at MomoCon”, I was able to see my own interests represented in a way that didn’t devalue them or make them the laughingstock of the story, but rather the star of the show.

I will admit, one of my reservations about this collection was due to my own close-mindedness. Throughout almost every story, we see Nkweti utilize several other languages and slang outside many readers’ understanding, yet she does not translate them for the viewer. Originally, this frustrated me as I was constantly looking up what specific words and sometimes whole sentences even meant, but I came to realize the prejudice agenda I was pushing forward with this mindset. Why must minority cultures, like that of the African culture within this collection, define themselves for us? With the oppression we, as white Americans, have placed on groups like this, the least we can do is learn how to understand some pidgin.

One change I could see benefiting this book is with the story “It Just Kills You Inside”. Although this story was my favorite due to its fresh take on a zombie apocalypse tale, I wish it wasn’t included within the collection. I believe it has so much more potential than was allowed by trapping it within so few pages. Nkweti did an amazing job with her other stories in terms of creating a narrative with unique surroundings and characters and succinctly finishing their tale within a twenty-page frame, but this was not the case for “It Just Kills You Inside”. This story could be removed from the collection and turned into a longer novella or novel to expand upon the truly original story that had me begging for more. A second option could be adding more pages to this story and taking some away from “Kinks”, which I believe could have been cut down quite a bit while still portraying the story well. Overall, Nkweti’s short story collection did an impeccable job of giving voices to those silenced for so long but could have done for some changes within stories such as “It Just Kills You Inside” and “Kinks” that either gave too little to an amazing story or too much to an average tale.

University of Indianapolis Professional Writing and Creative Writing Major
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