WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS
By Nana Nkweti
I completed this story assortment and puzzled, “Is there anything Nana Nkweti can’t do?” In her raucous and completely spectacular debut, “Walking on Cowrie Shells,” Nkweti writes throughout a number of genres together with science fiction, younger grownup literature, literary fiction and suspense, showcasing a bunch of voices — immigrant and first-generation, elder and Gen Z, human and supernatural, trustworthy and godless — hailing from the United States and Africa.
Nkweti’s totally authentic tales vary from laugh-out-loud humorous to heartbreaking, and are sometimes each, as in the satirical “It Takes a Village Some Say.” Against the backdrop of social media celeb tradition, we witness the unlikely collision of “findom” — brief for monetary domination, a sexual fetish association in which a submissive provides presents and cash to a dominant — and the murky enterprise of worldwide adoption. The white adoptive mom of a Cameroonian youngster observes: “People think Bono and Bill Gates are supporting the continent; they have no idea that it’s us.”
Nkweti proffers no straightforward options to the dilemmas her richly layered characters face, and she challenges our presumptions about who the villains and victims are. Taunted in the playground by Black American classmates (“African booty scratcher. Betchu live in a tree. Bet yo’ mama’s a monkey”), a Cameroonian American lady receives consolation from her mom (“a psychotherapist and a prolific hugger”), who tells her, “They are yearning, learning late to love themselves … you remind them of all they have lost.” This sensitivity, nuance and eager consideration to historical past shine by way of on each web page of the gathering.
Romantic love and grief are among the many themes in a number of tales. Nala, an immortal Mami Wata (water spirit) and “seasoned seducer of thousands of men,” has lived to the “ripe young age of 202.” But in “The Living Infinite,” she permits her physique to age in order that she might develop outdated along with her human husband. In “Dance the Fiya Dance,” the freshly single, “Halfrican” Chambu is open to new potentialities whereas dancing with a stranger at a marriage. “My sister warned me about the dangers of American girls,” he says. “I may only be half American,” Chambu thinks to herself, “but I rub that half against him for all I’m worth.” In “Night Becomes Us,” Zeinab, a younger Muslim immigrant and women’ room attendant at a nightclub in New York City, dances whereas nobody is watching — or so she thinks. “She closes her eyes, her heartbeat an 808 as she soaks in the music seeping through the walls, and loses all her selves.” Back residence in Maroua, Cameroon, she misplaced her mom to a suicide bomber, one other 16-year-old Muslim lady like her.
In Nkweti’s world, each relationship can activate a dime, and half of the pleasure of these tales is the anticipation of and the satisfaction in the messiness of these turns. In “Rain Check at MomoCon,” a Cameroonian teenager named Astrid writes “slash fan-fiction” about “Luke Skywalker letting Han Solo stroke his light saber during long and lonely desert nights on ‘Brokeback Tatooine.’” She attends Comic Con at New York’s Javits Center along with her “so-called friends,” Mimi and Mbola, and her precise pal, inventive associate and secret crush, Young “Money” Yoon. Black nerds throughout generations will really feel seen in this story, and the ultimate scene will resonate with anybody who’s ever gotten drained of being pushed round. (Fittingly, the story is accompanied by just a few pages of comics, among the many a number of illustrations included in the gathering.)
At turns tender and daring, Nkweti’s tales upend racist stereotypes. But her writing flows in such a wonderful means, and her characters’ complexities are so central, that this myth-busting looks like a byproduct and not a mission. Nkweti’s mission appears to be to have a hell of rather a lot of enjoyable writing beautiful tales about folks and locations that matter to her. And fortunate us, we get to learn them. These are tales to get misplaced in once more and once more.