cover image New York, My Village

New York, My Village

Uwem Akpan. Norton, $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-393-88142-4

Akpan’s ambitious debut novel (after the collection Say You’re One of Them) follows a Nigerian writer in New York City as he navigates myriad permutations of racism and prejudice. Ekong Otis Udousoro has a four-month fellowship in 2016 to understudy with a small U.S. publisher and edit an anthology of stories about Nigeria’s civil war of the late 1960s. Ekong, a member of Annang tribe (a “minority of minorities”), has his visa denied twice before finally securing entry with help from his stateside editor-in-chief. The all-white publishing house greets Ekong with friendly overtures, but his diverse neighbors in Hell’s Kitchen offer only icy stares, leading him to take refuge in Times Square and at Starbucks. While fighting for underrepresented authors and against bloodthirsty bedbugs, Ekong learns that first impressions don’t always reveal true character. Throughout, he strives to bear witness to the atrocities and lingering animosities of the Biafran War among compatriots living in the Bronx, in New Jersey, and in his village back home. Akpan writes as much to educate as to entertain, adding lengthy and lucid historical passages with footnotes to source material along with excerpts from the book Ekong is editing. This layered novel tells more than it shows, but it’s well worth listening to. (Nov.)