9 short stories our Features team think you should read.
If you are wondering why George Saunders won the 2017 Man Booker Prize, read this story and wonder no more. This story is a letter from a fox, Fox 8, to all ‘Yumans,’ asking simply “what is rong with you peeple.” Fox 8 examines the casual—almost offhanded cruelty of humans—and the fallouts of this. Repeatedly, I have recommended this story, not just because it is earnest, heartbreaking and funny, but also because who would ever think to write a story from the viewpoint of a fox?
This story is simple and quietly stunning. Hyacinth Ike has decided to die because he sees nothing else to loiter about on Earth for. How he goes about arranging his death, the author reveals in simple prose that is pleasantly devoid of a deluge of metaphors or verbal pyrotechnics. The premise is decidedly unsimple, but the author handles it with such dexterity that you are sucked into the story from start to finish. The characters are so alive, they could very well be sitting beside you as you read. This is one I have returned to, time and time again, because of the enduring charm of its simplicity.
A Short History Of Zaka The Zulu is a punch of a story. Here, there are the all too familiar joys and terrors of boarding school, told in a collective voice that is as humorous as it is menacing. Slowly, expertly, Gappah unfolds her story, revealing just how Zacharias, aka Zaka the Zulu, brightest star of the College of Loyola, came to be accused of murder.
Every time I re-read this story, I marvel at it. It is a wonder of form, with brilliant content and undeniably sharp wit. I must have read A Short History Of Zaka The Zulu about ten times, and I am in no danger of stopping soon.
I am unabashedly in love with everything Taiye Selasi writes. Her dramatic, poetic and occasionally superfluous style of writing is perfect in this weighty short story. In The Sex Lives Of African Girls, Selasi paints a heartbreaking picture of the ways the girl-child is forced to grow up in a particular family. This story unfolds like a slow awakening, and the reader will find out that nothing is as it seems in the beginning.
Long after reading Selasi’s short story, I am still unable to forget the powerful words of the final sentence: “In the peculiar hierarchy of African households the only rung lower than motherless child is childless mother.”
Lesley Nneka Arimah
Light has a charm that I have found in all of Arimah’s writing; a charm that firmly presents reality to the reader. In this story, she subverts expected gendered behaviour. The father is the more competent parent. He is also happy to allow his daughter the space to be all the variants of herself. This is a rare portrayal of a ‘typical’ Nigerian father—who is often assumed to be either heavily patriarchal or indifferent to the development of his child.
Whenever I think about the line, “Buki, I love you. I will give you many sons,” it never fails to leave me amused. Arimah has a way of opening a story that sees your whole body relaxing; ready to walk into the worlds she creates and engage with the struggles of her characters.
The viscerality of this story gets you. Osunde is descriptive in a way that makes you uncomfortable whilst also clarifying what she is looking to convey. This take on “the devil” is fresh, belying the idea that there are no new stories to be told. Whether the devil is used satirically here—as a mockery for the way he is employed on the Nigerian tongue—or is a real entity is unclear, and that is part of the mystique of the story.
I love that the devil in Osunde’s story is not omnipresent. It moves between characters; driving the plot along so that the reader meets a myriad of characters affected by different yet very real ills that need solutions the devil, in his own special way, provides. Night Wind is a titillating story that can be read and read again without eliciting boredom.
Akwaeke Emezi’s ‘Who Is Like God’ is a compelling snapshot of the uncertainty that many experience during adolescence in different ways and to varying degrees. ‘Who is Like God’ is about a boy named Onyedikachi (Kachi) and his family dynamics or more specifically, Kachi’s relationship with his mother and sister.
Despite the brevity of the tale, Emezi touches on the power of religion, traditional gender roles and stereotypes plus identity with such lyrical dexterity that the weight and pain of the story remains after reading it. It is hardly surprising that ‘Who Is Like God’ was the winning entry from Africa for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
D.H. LawrenceThe Rocking Horse Winner starts with:
“There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck. She married for love, and the love turned to dust.”
With such an opening, how can one not be excited to read what comes next?
The Rocking Horse Winner is a funny yet morbid story about a house whispering for more money, and what some of its inhabitants will do to quell the whispers. It is a reminder of why I love the classic short stories, from the works of Saki to D.H. Lawrence. It is well worth the dozen times or so I have read it.
Tope Folarin’s Genesis draws you in from the first sentence, and it does not let go until the very last. Quite the lengthy story, it is about the main character’s boyhood, fraught with fraying familial relationships, a mother’s mental illness, and so much more. He shares his family history, as told to him and as he experiences in childhood, and the reader gets a front row seat to the unravelling of his mother and, subsequently, the entire family.
You can listen to the audio version of Genesis narrated by Folarin here.
What are your must-read short stories?