Thursday, September 17, 2009

Say You're One Of Them

Uwem Akpan's stunning stories humanize the perils of poverty and violence so piercingly that few readers will feel they've ever encountered Africa so immediately. The eight-year-old narrator of "An Ex-Mas Feast" needs only enough money to buy books and pay fees in order to attend school. Even when his twelve-year-old sister takes to the streets to raise these meager funds, his dream can't be granted. Food comes first. His family lives in a street shanty in Nairobi, Kenya, but their way of both loving and taking advantage of each other strikes a universal chord.
In the second of his stories published in a New Yorker special fiction issue, Akpan takes us far beyond what we thought we knew about the tribal conflict in Rwanda. The story is told by a young girl, who, with her little brother, witnesses the worst possible scenario between parents. They are asked to do the previously unimaginable in order to protect their children. This singular collection will also take the reader inside Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia, revealing in beautiful prose the harsh consequences for children of life in Africa.
Akpan's voice is a literary miracle, rendering lives of almost unimaginable deprivation and terror into stories that are nothing short of transcendent. MORE
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Monday, September 14, 2009

Queen of the Court: An Autobiography by Serena Williams

From gang violence to an inspiring trip to Ghana, the life of the younger Williams sister has been about much more than tennis, says Tim Adams
"You know I was always really very, very good," Venus said at the time, grinning. "Serena, on the other hand, wasn't very good at all. She was small, really slim and the racket was way too big for her. Hopeless. She started playing especially good tennis at around 15, which was soon enough – I mean, she won the US Open two years later – but still it was quite late compared to me." She then summed up the distinction in shorthand: "You know," she said, "I was always Venus …"

Serena, though, as this memoir makes clear, wasn't always Serena. Her book allows us to see how the younger half of the greatest sister act sport has known came out of the shadow of "V" through a process of intense self-invention. Serena recalls at one point how she was once asked how many grand slam titles she thought she would have won had Venus, her greatest rival, not stood in her way. She answered that she did not think she would have won any at all; Venus was her spur – her great advantage in life was that she knew from a very early age that if she could just beat her sister then she could beat anybody in the world.

She learnt through this to be at her best when everything was against her. Throughout her career, Serena has been in the habit of writing down inspirational words on Post-it notes and sticking them to her racket bag. Sometimes they read like text messages from Martin Luther King: "Show no emotion," she will write, "UR black and U can endure anything. Endure. Persevere. Stand tall." Or: "Be strong. Be black. Now's your time 2 shine. Be confident. They want to see you angry. Be angry, but don't let them see it."More

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