Tales of Nana Nkweti about Cameroonians at home and in America


By Nana Nkweti

I finished this collection of stories and I asked myself: “Is there something that Nana Nkweti cannot do? In his raucous and utterly impressive debut, “Walking on Cowrie Shells,” Nkweti writes in several genres including science fiction, young adult literature, literary fiction and suspense, featuring a multitude of voices. – immigrant and first generation, elders and generation Z, human and supernatural, faithful and ungodly – from the United States and Africa.

Nkweti’s completely original stories range from funny laughing aloud to heartbreaking, and are often both, as in the satirical “It Takes a Village Some Say”. In the context of celebrity social media culture, we are witnessing the unlikely collision of “findom” – short for financial domination, a sexual fetish arrangement in which a submissive offers gifts and money to a dominant – and the troubled business of international adoption. The white adoptive mother of a Cameroonian child observes: “People think Bono and Bill Gates support the continent; they have no idea it’s us.

Nkweti doesn’t come up with easy solutions to the dilemmas her layered characters face, and she questions our assumptions about who the villains and the victims are. taunted in the playground by black American classmates (“African booty scratcher. Betchu live in a tree. Bet yo ‘mama’s a monkey”), an American Cameroonian is comforted by her mother (“a psychotherapist and a prolific hug “), Who said to him:” They yearn, learn late to love each other … you remind them of all they have lost. ” This sensitivity, this nuance and this great attention to history are reflected on every page of the collection.

Romantic love and grief are themes of several stories. Nala, an immortal Mami Wata (water spirit) and “seasoned seductress of thousands of men”, lived to “the ripe age of 202 years”. But in “The Living Infinite”, she lets her body age so that she can grow old with her human husband. In “Dance the Fiya Dance ”, the brand new single,“ Halfrican ”Chambu opens up to new possibilities by dancing with a stranger at a wedding. “My sister warned me about the dangers of American girls,” he says. “I might be only half American,” Chambu thought to himself, “but I rub that half against him for all I’m worth.” In “The Night Becomes Us” Zeinab, a young Muslim immigrant and maid in a New York nightclub, dances without anyone looking – at least that’s what she thinks. “She closes her eyes, her heart beats at 808 as she soaks up the music seeping through the walls and completely lost.” Back home in Maroua, Cameroon, she lost her mother to a suicide bomber, another 16-year-old Muslim girl like her.

In Nkweti’s world, every relationship can turn on a dime, and part of the fun of these stories is the anticipation and satisfaction of the mess of these turns. In “Rain Check at MomoCon”, a Cameroonian teenager named Astrid writes a “fan-fiction slash” on “Luke Skywalker letting Han Solo stroke her lightsaber for long, lonely nights in the desert on ‘Brokeback Tatooine’. She attends Comic Con at the Javits Center in New York City with her “so-called friends” Mimi and Mbola, and her true friend, creative partner and secret crush, Young “Money” Yoon. Black nerds across generations will feel seen in this story, and the final scene will resonate with anyone who is already sick of being pushed around. (Fittingly, the story comes with a few comic book pages, among the many illustrations included in the collection.)

Alternately tender and daring, Nkweti’s tales challenge racist stereotypes. But her writing flows in such a beautiful way, and the complexity of her characters is so central, that this destruction of myths feels like a byproduct, not a mission. Nkweti’s mission seems to be to have so much fun writing exquisite stories about people and places that matter to her. And lucky we can read them. These are stories we get lost in over and over again.


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