cover image Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories

Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories

Nana Nkweti. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-6444-5054-3

Nkweti’s beautiful and immersive debut collection challenges hackneyed depictions of a monolithic Africa through an array of dynamic stories that reflect the heterogeneity of Africans and the Cameroonian diaspora. The satirical “It Just Kills You Inside” features a PR man who capitalizes on a fast-spreading zombie virus in Cameroon, which turns into a cash cow after refugee camps and the adoption of African zombie babies become Hollywood’s latest cause célèbre. In “The Statistician’s Wife,” 40-year-old economist Elliot Coffin Jr.’s interview with two homicide detectives in the aftermath of Elliot’s wife’s murder is punctuated by disturbing statistics on the number of women in Nigeria who are murdered by their husbands. Other stories switch between diary entries and narrative, as in the heartrending “Dance the Fiya Dance,” in which linguistic anthropologist Chambu evades her cousin’s attempts at matchmaking while grappling with her own ambivalence toward motherhood. Whether Nkweti is writing about water goddesses, zombies, or aspiring graphic novelists, she reveals and celebrates the rich inner lives of those who do not fit neatly into social and cultural categories. But the author’s prose shines the brightest; Nkweti’s sentences soar, enthralling the reader through their every twist and turn, and often ending with a wry punch (a fledgling church headquartered in a Brooklyn apartment is “still undergoing a slow renovation that has spanned from Easter Sunday the year prior into an unknown future—unto the end of days, perhaps”). This is a groundbreaking and vital work. Agent: Rachel Kim, 3 Arts Entertainment. (June)