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Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories

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A virtuosic debut collection that roves across genres and styles, by a finalist for the Caine Prize In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of A virtuosic debut collection that roves across genres and styles, by a finalist for the Caine Prize In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes. In “The Devil Is a Liar,” a pregnant pastor’s wife struggles with the collision of western Christianity and her mother’s traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child. In other stories, Nkweti vaults past realism, upending genre expectations in a satirical romp about a jaded PR professional trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, and in a mermaid tale about a Mami Wata who forgoes her power by remaining faithful to a fisherman she loves. In between these two ends of the spectrum there’s everything from an aspiring graphic novelist at a comic con to a murder investigation driven by statistics to a story organized by the changing hairstyles of the main character. Pulling from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels, Nkweti showcases the complexity and vibrance of characters whose lives span Cameroonian and American cultures. A dazzling, inventive debut, Walking on Cowrie Shells announces the arrival of a superlative new voice.


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A virtuosic debut collection that roves across genres and styles, by a finalist for the Caine Prize In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of A virtuosic debut collection that roves across genres and styles, by a finalist for the Caine Prize In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes. In “The Devil Is a Liar,” a pregnant pastor’s wife struggles with the collision of western Christianity and her mother’s traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child. In other stories, Nkweti vaults past realism, upending genre expectations in a satirical romp about a jaded PR professional trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, and in a mermaid tale about a Mami Wata who forgoes her power by remaining faithful to a fisherman she loves. In between these two ends of the spectrum there’s everything from an aspiring graphic novelist at a comic con to a murder investigation driven by statistics to a story organized by the changing hairstyles of the main character. Pulling from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels, Nkweti showcases the complexity and vibrance of characters whose lives span Cameroonian and American cultures. A dazzling, inventive debut, Walking on Cowrie Shells announces the arrival of a superlative new voice.

30 review for Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories

  1. 4 out of 5

    Martha Anne Toll

    Here's my review of this terrific collection for NPR Books. https://www.npr.org/2021/06/07/100338... Here's my review of this terrific collection for NPR Books. https://www.npr.org/2021/06/07/100338...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Royce

    I am not exactly sure how to review this debut collection of short stories written by the amazingly gifted writer, Nana Nkweti. The writing is stunning, engrossing, just fantastic; but it is also tough to decipher what is happening. Maybe that is the idea and I am just not bright enough to understand it? The writing is a 5 or more, yet the subject matter is at times dense and complicated. When I read some of the stories I felt I was reading them out loud (in my mind) or repeatedly re-reading sen I am not exactly sure how to review this debut collection of short stories written by the amazingly gifted writer, Nana Nkweti. The writing is stunning, engrossing, just fantastic; but it is also tough to decipher what is happening. Maybe that is the idea and I am just not bright enough to understand it? The writing is a 5 or more, yet the subject matter is at times dense and complicated. When I read some of the stories I felt I was reading them out loud (in my mind) or repeatedly re-reading sentences to grasp the meaning because they were that “meaty” or dense. The first story, “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” was sensational! “The Statitician’s Wife” and “Dance the Fiya Dance” were my other favorite stories. Perhaps as a reader, I need to be more open-minded and look deeper into the hidden meanings of these beautifully written stories?!? One thing I know for sure, I have never read anything like this before.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Heather Freeman

    This is a stunning, wide-ranging collection, and I was blown away by its scope. For me, the first story ("It Takes a Village Some Say") remained the most memorable with its multiple narrators (the latter of which emphatically corrects and replaces the former). I also appreciated the use of sporadic images in certain stories, though it was certainly surprising. All in all, I can't wait to buy a copy of this book, and I can't wait to read more from Nkweti in the future. This is a stunning, wide-ranging collection, and I was blown away by its scope. For me, the first story ("It Takes a Village Some Say") remained the most memorable with its multiple narrators (the latter of which emphatically corrects and replaces the former). I also appreciated the use of sporadic images in certain stories, though it was certainly surprising. All in all, I can't wait to buy a copy of this book, and I can't wait to read more from Nkweti in the future.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jessie (Zombie_likes_cake)

    I'm stuck with this row of books that I want to give 3.5* to but have to choose which end they truly land on to please goodreads. It's not the worst thing, at least it means I am enjoying what I'm reading, it also means I am not fully loving what I'm reading and most of all that I am indecisive how to rate what I am reading. "Walking on Cowrie Shells" fits with all of that. It also wasn't quite what I expected it to be and maybe being forced to adjust to my wrong expectations dimmed some enjoymen I'm stuck with this row of books that I want to give 3.5* to but have to choose which end they truly land on to please goodreads. It's not the worst thing, at least it means I am enjoying what I'm reading, it also means I am not fully loving what I'm reading and most of all that I am indecisive how to rate what I am reading. "Walking on Cowrie Shells" fits with all of that. It also wasn't quite what I expected it to be and maybe being forced to adjust to my wrong expectations dimmed some enjoyment, too. The way it was marketed it sounded like a collection full of magical realism/ speculative stories, Karen Russell's name got evoked (who is mentioned again in the acknowledgements) and it all set the tone for a very different collection. There are a small handful of stories with supernatural/ magical elements yet the majority is realistic, contemporary fiction, some even with dark satirical tones. I ended up liking most of the stories but had a hard time shaking my disappointment over not getting a more magical realism themed book, after all that is my favorite kind of short story collection. I also had expected a more African setting, Cameroon to be precise, this book is a finalist for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing after all. It turns out the huge majority of these tales are set in the US, the characters are Cameroonian immigrants and descendants which is also interesting but I was sad I didn't get to explore Cameroon itself more through this book. What this book did a great job with though was showing that black people aren't a monolith, immigrants aren't a monolith, not even people with the same heritage are anything like a monolith. These (often female) characters all come with similar cultural backdrop yet show personality range, they rattle the floor of some prejudices and misconceptions that are out there. I definitely enjoyed that. I was challenged with Nkweti's writing though, she has an impressive vocabulary. At first I found the stories overwritten and had to push myself to continue with the collection, even when I enjoyed what the stories were about. I found the writing a bit much, a bit artificial. But what can I say? Towards the end I liked her writing more and more. So I think it says more about me than her that at first I couldn't deal with her wordiness and by the end I was lowkey into it. You have to make of that what you will but I would say don't be intimidated if the writing initially appears overwhelming. What I loved though was the incorporation of other languages than just English into the text, I am always a sucker for that. A tiny detail I really liked was the title. First of all it fits so well for the whole collection but I also love that it is not the title of one of the stories which is something that most other collections do, I love that this was different; and it was kind of beautiful to find it as a line in one of the stories instead. Another specific aspect I liked about these was when Nkweti pitched characters who seemingly have a similar background (either by heritage, skin color, religion, being married to each other...) against each other to then reveal that they are truly not as alike as you thought in the beginning. While I think a reader with Cameroonian background will find a lot of these stories relatable, other readers such as me can learn a thing here and there. But I don't think these stories are limited to Cameroonian experiences, the different tales pick up different themes and I was sometimes more and sometimes less invested. And I am not sure I ever got over the mis-marketing. I'd recommend this collection but I will also not give more than 3* apparently. 3.5* My top 3: 3) The Living Infinite 2) The Statistician's Wife 1) It Takes a Village Some Say The one to skip: The Devil is a Liar

  5. 4 out of 5

    Never Without a Book

    Nkwetis stories are deeply immersive, often disorienting at times. At its best, they call to mind code-switching and the rich polyvocality of America. These stories about Cameroonian Americans are about more than just immigrants. They're about people from a different cultural background. Nkwetis sentences are often memorable and full of humour. Thank you, Graywolf press, for the gifted copy. Nkwetis stories are deeply immersive, often disorienting at times. At its best, they call to mind code-switching and the rich polyvocality of America. These stories about Cameroonian Americans are about more than just immigrants. They're about people from a different cultural background. Nkwetis sentences are often memorable and full of humour. Thank you, Graywolf press, for the gifted copy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Josh Mlot

    This is a sharp, incisive debut collection of short stories. In "Walking on Cowrie Shells" debut author Nana Nkweti gives us a sharp, incisive collection of stories that are wildly varied but all excellent. Her ability to range across the spectrum of story types—from serious slice of life pieces to magical realism to satire—without missing a beat is impressive, all while weaving in themes of otherness and the liminal space in which the African diaspora moves in—often looking in from the outside o This is a sharp, incisive debut collection of short stories. In "Walking on Cowrie Shells" debut author Nana Nkweti gives us a sharp, incisive collection of stories that are wildly varied but all excellent. Her ability to range across the spectrum of story types—from serious slice of life pieces to magical realism to satire—without missing a beat is impressive, all while weaving in themes of otherness and the liminal space in which the African diaspora moves in—often looking in from the outside of both"true" African community as well as American culture. Along the way you'll find everything from hip-hop to heartbreak to cosplay to mermaids. While all of these stories do some heavy lifting in terms of serious themes and messages, they don't get lost in it—and make no mistake, Nkweti doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the real-life causes she's trying to thrust to the forefront here. They are not thinly veiled ... yet they don't feel burdensome or distracting. Although I didn't think these stories had quite the magic that I love in my favorite short stories, they are memorable and the prose is excellent, with Nkweti very much in control and intentional the entire way. I really enjoyed this collection and I look forward to see what Nkweti brings us in the future.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jennvw

    Each story was so different that it was really hard to go from one to another, and I needed to take a break in between each. I really liked the author's style and would absolutely read a full novel by them, but the amount of detail they tried to put into a short story often made it hard to follow and left me wishing for more time to understand each universe. Each story was so different that it was really hard to go from one to another, and I needed to take a break in between each. I really liked the author's style and would absolutely read a full novel by them, but the amount of detail they tried to put into a short story often made it hard to follow and left me wishing for more time to understand each universe.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Hank

    Love the risks Nkweti takes, even when they don't result in narrative perfection. For her language alone, she's a talent to watch. Choice cuts: "It Takes a Village Some Say," "Night Becomes Us," "It Just Kills You Inside" Love the risks Nkweti takes, even when they don't result in narrative perfection. For her language alone, she's a talent to watch. Choice cuts: "It Takes a Village Some Say," "Night Becomes Us," "It Just Kills You Inside"

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    3.5*

  10. 4 out of 5

    Isabella

    3.75

  11. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    Wow, Nkweti had me bouncing all around in my mind with her extraordinary use of language as she integrated the cultures of Cameroon and the USA. Integration with contemporary references and pidgin language and creative wording added to the depth of the story. Her character development in this short story collection was sublime. Looking forward to her next publication! Thank you to Net Galley for providing this ARC!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    A wide-ranging collection of short stories that takes you from comic book conventions to a woman worrying about her unborn child to a charismatic and possibly toxic speaker.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jen Johnson

    This collection of short stories is dark, funny and touching all at once.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carla (literary.infatuation)

    I loved Nana Nkweti’s Walking On Cowrie Shells, a very eclectic collection of short stories encapsulating her passions: from graphic novels to traditional Africa folklore. I cannot possibly point to a favorite story but there’s something from everybody: tells of friendship and ComicCon excursions, mermaid and other sea goddesses, zombies and tales of parenting. But beyond merely entertaining, they give us a lot to think about. I totally recommend.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ben Platt

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lira

  17. 5 out of 5

    Woody Dismukes

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amy Knowlen

  20. 5 out of 5

    Angela

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jamila

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

  26. 5 out of 5

    John Albers

  27. 4 out of 5

    Abby

  28. 5 out of 5

    Betty

  29. 4 out of 5

    Clifford

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michele

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