Sometimes The Fire Is Not Fire – Akwaeke Emezi

Sometimes the fire is not fireIn this memoir piece, Akwaeke Emezi chronicles a specific Nigerian childhood with starkness and poetry and truth. It entertains. It disturbs. It is exquisitely written. I particularly loved her ability to turn Aba – a town about which I hope more will be written – into a rich character. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.

Chimamanda Adichie

Kerosene burns nearly everything.

Growing up, our house would sometimes be invaded by soldier ants, rivers of red clacking bodies that ran over our windowsills and bit us with thoroughness. We soaked newspaper in kerosene to make torches and burnt the ants back, singeing our carpets and bathtubs. The price of gas kept climbing, so we transferred all our cooking over to the small green kerosene stove and watched as the pots blackened. In the dry season, we raked dead leaves into a pile next to the borehole that didn’t work, sprinkled some kerosene and dropped a flame. I remember being amazed at how a little wetness could lead to such fire. My little sister and I would dance around the blaze until we got called in and scolded for getting smoke in our hair. When you try to burn a person, it is cheaper to use kerosene instead of petrol.

I spent my entire childhood in Aba, a commercial town in the south of Nigeria, where both my siblings were born. When I came back to the country after leaving for college, I knew from my first circling of the Lagos crowd that the location of my childhood would be ammunition against people who thought I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t Nigerian enough. No one could argue with Aba. It was my best card, even better than being born in Umuahia, where my father and grandfather were born. It made me authentic in a way that was absolute; you couldn’t question if someone who grew up in Aba was a ‘real’ Nigerian. No one could say anything. Aba didn’t match the background they assumed for me: that I must have grown up outside Nigeria, because I smelled too foreign, right down to my blood. The truth felt like a story. I wanted to tell them we never had running water, that the cockroach eggs gelled into the egg grooves of the fridge door, that the concrete over the soakaway broke open and stayed open. The smell became part of our air and when one of the little chicks fell into the hole, my sister called me wicked for not helping it out. I said none of this, though. I just smiled at their shock and listened to the jokes about how Aba people can make and sell a fake version of anything, even a glass of water.

What I did tell people was how impressive it was that my parents kept their children as sheltered as they did in all the chaos of Aba during the 90’s and early 2000’s, with the way the town felt and tasted lawless. We got piles of books to read, bought secondhand from the Post Office on Ikot-Ekpene Road or sent from our cousins in London or pulled from my parents’ separate collections, and that’s how my sister and I ended up believing in fairies in the midst of riots. We had cats spilling over our carpets, a dog with raw bleeding ears, and several Barbie dolls sent from Saudi Arabia, where my mother moved to in ’96. I didn’t know I’d never live with her again. When our turkeys got fowlpox, we caught them and pinned them under our feet and learnt that you could treat the pox with palm oil. When the dogs got maggots, we learnt that applying careful pressure to the sore made them fall white and wriggling to the sand. We learnt not to handle bitterleaf and then touch your mouth, or peel yam and then touch your eyes, because the first ruins your tongue and the itch of the second can blind you. We mimicked the priests during Mass at CKC, driving home afterwards past the bodies dumped outside the teaching hospital. We stayed children.

After a pickup truck mowed down my sister in ‘95, my father forbade us to ride okadas, saying that the roads were too dangerous. I disobeyed often, leaning into the wind and raising my heels away from the burning exhaust so my slippers wouldn’t melt. The first time I climbed on one, my best friend called out my name and distracted me. I burnt the inside of my leg on the metal and she made a face. ‘Look out for the exhaust pipe,’ she said. By the time I went to school the next day, my burn had bubbled up and split. I packed it with powder and two types of iodine, till it was ugly and crusted in purples and reds. It scarred flat and I learnt to climb on motorcycles from the other side.

After I burned my sister’s left thigh, I learnt that burns always bubble reliably, whether you make them with metal or in her case, water. We were all sitting to breakfast at the dining table, the way my mother liked it when she was there, with the Milo and sugar and powdered milk and everything laid out. I reached over to grab the handle of the hot water flask, but my brother hadn’t screwed the top back on properly, so when the flask toppled over, it spilled a steaming river over my sister’s school uniform, burning her leg. She jumped up screaming and ran into the parlor, and everyone rushed to her while I apologized frantically. I think they cracked a raw egg over the burn. It was the second time I’d seen the skin of her leg do unnatural things. The first was the time with that pickup truck, when it dragged her down Okigwe Road, but that was her right leg and her skin had opened differently then, more intricately, chopped up by white bone screaming out of the pulpy red. My best friend’s father fixed it. I learnt that humans are meat.

Bodies in the sun smell unbearable after a week because meat goes bad, but I learnt that they smell even worse a week later. When walking back home after taking JAMB, it rained, and in the flooded water of Faulks Road, I learnt that a dead body will float and even bob. I learnt that brains were grey before I was eleven, from the tarmac of Brass Junction, from the cracked calabash of what was a person’s head. We looked at it every day on our way to school, waiting to turn left onto Aba-Owerri Road to head towards Abayi, holding our breath. I learnt that we can bear much more than we predict.

When the armed robberies got too bad in Aba, to the point where you could call the police to report one and the police would just make sure they avoided the area, a team of vigilantes arose and called themselves the Bakassi Boys. Their headquarters were in Ariaria Market, and we often saw them as we returned from school, their vehicles whistling down the road. They dangled out of windows and off roofs, waving machetes and guns, streaming with red and yellow strips of cloth. They killed and burned thieves, hacking them with machetes, throwing a tire and faithful kerosene over them, then leaving the corpses out as warnings and reminders. No one dared to remove them until it was allowed. When I was fourteen, we went to Malaysia to see my grandparents and I told one of my cousins about the Bakassi Boys as we walked on a beach. ‘That’s terrible, that they’re killing people,’ she said. I looked at her like she didn’t make sense. ‘Those people shouldn’t have stolen,’ I answered. Even our state governor allowed the killings, just like he allowed the riots in 2000, after the massacre of Igbos in Kaduna, after they stacked up our dead in lorries and sent them back to us.

I learnt other things in Aba, that a mother you see once a year is a stranger, no matter how much you cry for her in the long months when she’s gone. I learnt that if my father is a man who will wield a machete at the NEPA worker who came to check the meter, then I cannot tell him what our neighbour who took my sister to the hospital after the pickup accident did to me, because at twelve, I am entirely too young for that kind of blood on my hands. We can, I promise you, bear much more than we predict.

I told an acquaintance some of this during a lunch in Lagos, not the parts about myself, just about the bodies and the curfews and the ritual kidnappings they called Otokoto and the time they burnt down the mosque and killed every Muslim they could find, murdering three hundred Northerners in the two days after the lorries arrived with the bodies from Kaduna, when we got five days off from school and stayed at home and saw the ashes afterwards in front of the Customs House. I told her how a classmate had joked with me then that I should be careful. ‘You know you resemble a Northerner,’ he said. I told her about the rumors of this Muslim man who could pass for Igbo and so when they came for him, he joined the mob and killed his people to stay alive, to prove he was one of us. I told her about the woman next door whose gateman was a shoemaker from the North, how she hid him and his son in their boys quarters. When the child heard the noise in the street, he tried to run out to see what it was, but she caught him and beat him and sent him back. He was five. We shared an avocado tree with their compound.

We were sitting in Freedom Park as I said these things, and she stared at me the whole time, horrified. ‘You’re making that up,’ she said. ‘Are you serious?’

‘It was Aba in the 90’s,’ I reminded her. ‘I thought everyone in Nigeria grew up like this.’ I hadn’t thought she’d be surprised. She was Nigerian too, after all, and much older than me. Surely she’d seen worse things.

‘No, everyone did not grow up like that!’ She was agitated. ‘Why don’t you write about this?!’

I shrugged. It was a normal childhood, and besides, Aba was just Aba. None of it had seemed worth writing about. I could hear how the stories sounded when I said them out loud, dark like old blood, like I was supposed to be traumatized, different, like something in me, perhaps my innocence, should’ve caught a whiff of kerosene and gone crackly and black too, smoking away like suya edges. Except, I was fine. I felt like nothing had happened. In college, I had a friend from Serbia who wouldn’t even talk about the things he’d seen. I had a girlfriend in New York who’d spent years of her childhood in the middle of the war in Liberia. I know that life churns on, bloody and normal. I know I’m fine.

Sometimes the fire is not fire. Sometimes it’s not everything that burns.

Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo/Tamil writer and filmmaker based in liminal spaces. She was born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria. Her short fiction has been published in Sable Literary Magazine, Golly Magazine, Specter Magazine, and the 2015 Caine Prize Anthology.

Secret Santa

As the year winds down, I always yearn for Christmas with so much anticipation towards the festivities which colours the atmosphere and fills the air with nostalgia. My perspective of Christmas changed six years ago by a traditional ritual which I have participated in for over two decades of my life.

My father died of prostate cancer while I was writing my final SSCE exams; this was chiefly because we too poor to mull over the option of surgery, when we could not even pay for his second round of chemotherapy.
Being the eldest child, I had to put my dream of becoming a doctor on the shelf and step into his shoes to fend for myself and the family, so I took up a job as an office assistant. But the zest to earn the most coveted prefix, did not stop me from sharing with whoever cared to listen, how I planned to save the world one day at a time.

My heart sank as I stepped forward to accept my gift from the Secret Santa exchange which was hosted by the Admin manager on 20th December 2009, it was a white envelope. While everyone in the office was all smiles as they opened up their gifts, the Christmas card I got read thus –

          "Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone"
                               Charles Schulz

Although the words did not mean much to me, especially when I was hoping to get a Tom Ford shirt or Michael Korrs wristwatch. By the time reached home, it was quite late and all my siblings were in bed but my mother was still awake.

“Somebody from a courier service delivered this here today, she said handing a brown envelope to me”. A short note was inscribed on it, ‘With Love From Secret Santa’.

Still a bit confused, I open it, the content of the envelope was a scholarship letter offering me admission to study Medicine and Surgery at University College Hospital, Ibadan fully funded by Hopevine Foundation.

Dear Secret Santa, if you are reading this story, I want you to know that I graduated as one of the best graduating students of my set in 2015 and I am presently working with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. Thanks for believing in my dream, going the extra mile and showing me that Christmas is love in action.

Snapshots of #MyFeminism

Brittle Paper featured an essay series on feminism titled My Feminism. The series was inspired, in part, by Chimamanda Adichie for her public statements which have aroused a wave of interest in the values, practice and politics of feminism. The essay series featured Keside Anosike, Wana Udobang, Kola Tubosun, Pearl Osibu, and Ainehi Edoro as they explored feminism as a powerful idea that inspires us all differently.

My Feminism| Complicating the Significance of Gender| Keside Anoside myfeminism-keside
My father raised a feminist son because my mother had died and left him with four children. In our quiet apartment in Ikoyi where tall trees cast shadows on the road outside on warm evenings, I learned to do the things that my mother couldn’t do anymore. Often times I go back to that place—when I am asked to man up as though I were somehow, in my sensitivity, doing a disservice to the brotherhood of men. The dark thoughts, the fear, and the uncertainty of it all would leave me as I walked down that road most evenings. I’d think of how I arrived here—this young man that I am now. How at nine, I’d noticed that domestic chores soothed my mind and allowed me to feel alive because my extreme paranoia faded and was replaced with the concentration needed to scrub the floor, and drive a knife into four squares of an onion. Read more here

My Feminism| The Unwomanly Feminist| Pearl Osibu
myfeminism-pearl‘Pearl, you know, you should just stop saying you’re a feminist.’
If I had a Naira for every time I heard that, I’d buy the 2017 Range Rover Sport. Or, at the very least, pay my rent. This, usually said in reaction to a sweat drenched, grease splashed, food aroma wafting version of myself at time ‘T’. Or to me rocking my nephew to sleep and then cradling him on my chest. This to my chipped nails or chapped skin from doing laundry, or anything considered domestic; or gushing when my boyfriend buys me flowers or some other romantic gesture. This to me cooking batches of organoleptic-looking meals of dubitable taste; this to me christening myself the official cook in residential writers’ conferences and basically serving to the best of my abilities all my colleagues, male and female alike. All of these things, these ‘exhibits,’ these traits, these things I do, this person I am — these things that are considered ‘unfeministic.’Read more here

My Feminism| On the Necessity of Men| Kola Tubosun
myfeminism-kolaWhen I was first asked to write this piece, the issues of the day included the trendy acceptance of feminism through Chimamanda Adichie’s delightful viral TED talk, the resulting print pamphlet that has achieved its own notable virality across Europe, and a high profile appearance of the author on the fashion red carpet. Also in the news was the seeming ideological disagreement between the author and Beyoncé Knowles through whose music she had been opened up to a new and diverse audience when it was featured in the latter’s penultimate album. I have a few thoughts on that particular ideological conflict and I’ll get to it in a moment, but as at 8pm today, Lagos time, a man by the name of Donald J. Trump had just been given a tour of the White House as the new president elect. And for that reason, this essay needed immediate retooling. Read more here

My Feminism| Remembering to Scream| Wana Udobang
pmyfeminism-wanaI don’t remember the first time my father hit my mother. But I often remember my brother’s hands muzzling my mouth shut whilst my screaming the words ‘leave my mummy alone’ would ease its way through the spaces between his fingers. Like that Saturday morning when my sister’s friend and I were doing jumping jacks to a Jane Fonda workout video and we all heard a rumble upstairs. Too embarrassed to attend to it, we kept jumping. Too loud to ignore, we ran. Many blows to the stomach later, I saw my mother vomit and excrete concurrently. I screamed again. Like that day I got back from school and watched her tumbling down the stairwell. I would scream again, like I did many times before and I did many times after. Read more here

My Feminism| The Business of Beauty| Ainehi Edoro
myfeminism-ainehiChimamanda Adichie is endlessly inspiring. It is a beautiful thing that one of the most powerful figures of contemporary feminism is an African woman. It is history making, and it is empowering. Between her viral TED videos and her collaboration with Beyonce, she has single handedly brought feminism from the cold dark halls of the ivory towers to the streets and to our social media lives. Her public image is fluid and open. She has made it clear that she would not be held down by norms of an intellectual culture that require women to see smartness and the aspiration for beauty as mutually exclusive things. Adichie’s insistence on being a brilliant and powerful woman in her own terms has been beyond refreshing. Read more here

On My Way To The Novel, I Fell In Love With The Short Story || Junot Diaz

junot-diaz-topliteI’ve spent past 20 years reading and writing short stories—which, given some careers, ain’t all that much, but it is more than half my adult life. I guess you could say I’m one of those true believers. I teach the form every year without fail, and when I’m asked to give a lecture on a literary form (a rarity), the short story is inevitably my craft subject du jour. Even now that my writing is focused entirely on novels, short fiction is still the genre I feel most protective of. The end-of-the-novel bullshit that erupts with measles-like regularity among a certain strain of literary folks doesn’t exercise me as much as when people tell me they never read short stories. At these moments I find myself proselytizing like a madman and I will go as far as to mail favorite collections to the person in question. (For real, I do this.) I hate the endless shade thrown at the short story — whether from publishers or editors or writers who talk the form down, who don’t think it’s practical or sufficiently remunerative—and I always cheer when a story collection takes a prize or becomes a surprise bestseller (rare and getting rarer). I always have at least one story collection on my desk or near my bed for reading—and there’s never a week when I don’t have a story I just read kicking around inside my head.

I am as much in awe of the form’s surpassing beauty as I am bowled over by its extraordinary mutability and generativity. I love the form’s spooky effects, how in contradistinction to the novel, which gains its majesty from its expansiveness, from its size, the short story’s colossal power extends from its brevity and restraint. Or, as Dagoberto Gilb has said, in the story “the small is large, strength is economy, simplicity, not verbosity.” If the novel is our culture’s favored literary form, upon which we heap all our desiccated literary laurels, if the novel is, say, our Jaime Lannister, then the short story is our very own Tyrion: the disdained little brother, the perennial underdog. But what an underdog. Give a short story a dozen pages and it can break hearts bones vanities and cages. And in the right hands there’s more oomph in a gram of short story than in almost any literary form. It’s precisely this exhilarating atomic compound of economy + power that has entranced readers and practitioners alike for generations, and also explains why the story continues to attract our finest writers.

But such power does not come without a price. This is a form that is unforgiving as fuck, and demands from its acolytes unnerving levels of exactitude. A novel, after all, can absorb a whole lot of slackness and slapdash and still kick massive ass, but a short story can unravel over a pair of injudicious sentences. And while novels can dawdle for chapters before sparking into brilliance, the short story needs to be about its business from its opening line. Short stories are acts of bravura, and for a form junkie like me, to read a good one has all the thrill of watching a high-wire act. When the writer pulls it off sentence by sentence scene by scene page after page from first touch to last, you almost forget to breathe.

Novels might be able to summon entire worlds, but few literary forms can match the story at putting a reader in touch with life’s fleeting, inexorable rhythm. It’s the one great benefit of the form’s defining limitation.

Stories, after all, are short, just like our human moments. (We’re all Tyrion, narratively speaking.) Compared to the novel, stories strike like life and end with its merciless abruptness as well. Just as you’re settling into the world of a story, that’s usually when the narrative closes, ejecting you from its embrace, typically forever. With a novel there’s a more generous contact. When you read a novel you know implicitly that it ain’t going to end for a good long while. Characters might die, families might leave their home nations, generations might rise and fall, but the world of the novel, which is its heart, endures . . . as long as there are pages. A novel’s bulk is a respite from life’s implacable uncertainty. You and I can end in a heartbeat, without warning, but no novel ends until that last page is turned. There’s something deeply consoling about that contract the novel makes with its reader.

No such consolation when you read stories. That’s the thing—just as they’re beginning they’re ending. As with stories, so with us. To me this form captures better than any other what it is to be human—the brevity of our moments, the cruel irrevocability when those times places and people we hold the most dear slip through our fingers.

Some friends have told me that their lives resemble novels. That’s super-cool. Mine, alas, never has. Maybe it’s my Caribbean immigrant multiplicity, the incommensurate distances between the worlds I inhabit, but my life has always worked better when understood as a collection of short stories than anything else. Thing is, I’m all these strange pieces that don’t assemble into anything remotely coherent. Hard for me to square that kid in Santo Domingo climbing avocado trees with the teen in Central NJ bringing a gun to school with the man who now writes these words on the campus of MIT. Forget the same narrator—these moments don’t feel like they’re in the same book or even the same genre. Those years when I was running around in the South Bronx, helping my boys drag their congas to their shows—that time feels like it happened to someone else. (That world! These days it’s all been erased and they’ve rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it? ) I guess some of us have crossed too many worlds and lived too many lives for unity.

This is the introduction to the Best American Short Stories 2016, click here for the full article.

#myfeminism || Brittle Paper Features Essay Series On Feminism

my-feminism-1-toplite
Brittle Paper will feature an essay series on feminism titled My Feminism. The series was inspired, in part, by Chimamanda Adichie for her public statements which have aroused a wave of interest in the values, practice and politics of feminism. With these statements, Chimamanda has fired up an open ground for some of the most interesting conversations on feminism.
To keep this conversation going, Keside Anosike, Wana Udobang, Kola Tubosun, Pearl Osibu, and Ainehi Edoro are set to write short essays in which they explore feminism as a powerful idea that inspires us all differently. This essay series will run for 3 weeks and it kicks off 21st November, click here for more details to join the conversation.

This Is Why People Still Love Hillary Clinton – Chimamanda Adichie

hillary-clintonWe do not see, often enough, the people who love Hillary Clinton, who support her because of her qualifications rather than because of her unqualified opponent, who empathize with her. Yet millions of Americans, women and men, love her intelligence, her industriousness, her grit; they feel loyal to her, they will vote with enthusiasm for her.

Human beings change as they grow, but a person’s history speaks to who she is. There are millions who admire the tapestry of Hillary Clinton’s past: the first-ever student commencement speaker at Wellesley speaking boldly about making the impossible possible, the Yale law student interested in the rights of migrant farmworkers, the lawyer working with the Children’s Defense Fund, the first lady trying to make health care accessible for all Americans.

There are people who love how cleanly she slices through policy layers, how thoroughly she digests the small print. They remember that she won two terms to the United States Senate, where she was not only well-regarded but was known to get along with Republicans. They have confidence in her. There are people who rage at the media on her behalf, who see the coverage she too often receives as unfair. There are people who in a quiet, human way wish her well. There are people who, when Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to be president of the United States, will weep from joy.

Hillary Clinton was guilty immediately when she stepped into the view of the American public as the first lady of Arkansas. She was a lawyer full of dreams. She had made sacrifices for the man she loved, waived her plans, and moved to his state. But she also dared to think herself her husband’s equal, to assume herself competent enough to take on expanding access to healthcare and reforming the Arkansas public education system. She was guilty of not being a traditional first lady. She offended the old patriarchal order. The conservative media loathed her.

Politicians are ambitious; they have to be. Yet for Hillary Clinton, ambition is often an accusation.

A conservative writer labeled her a congenital liar when she was first lady, and the label stuck because it was repeated over and over—and it was a convenient label to harness misogyny. If she was a liar, then the hostility she engendered could not possibly be because she was a first lady who refused to be still and silent. “Liar’ has re-emerged during this election even though Politifact, a respected source of information about politicians, has certified that she is more honest than most politicians—and certainly more honest than her opponent.

Because she is already considered guilty in a vague and hazy way, there is a longing for her to be demonstrably guilty of something. Other words have been repeated over and over, with no context, until they have begun to breathe and thrum with life. Especially “emails.” The press coverage of “emails” has become an unclear morass where “emails” must mean something terrible, if only because of how often it is invoked.

The people who love Hillary Clinton know that the IT system at the State Department is old and stodgy, nothing like a Blackberry’s smooth whirl. Hillary Clinton was used to her Blackberry, and wanted to keep using it when she became secretary of state. Hackers could have broken into her system, which was not as secure as the State Department’s. But an exhaustive investigation has found no hacking and no nefarious intent—and intent is what matters above all else. Hillary Clinton has apologized. She made an understandable mistake. She did not commit a crime, and did not intend to commit a crime.

The American conservative media saw an opportunity to blow the “emails” story out of proportion, soon followed, almost bashfully, by the rest of the American media, obeying the noble rules from journalism school, insisting on false equivalencies even where it makes no sense, which is partly why it has become common to hear that both candidates are equally corrupt. Or equally disliked. Hillary Clinton is a knowledgeable, well-prepared, reasonable, experienced, even-tempered, hardworking candidate, while her opponent is a stubbornly uninformed demagogue who has been proven again and again to be a liar on matters big and small. There is no objective basis on which to equate Hillary Clinton to her opponent.

Millions of Americans do not expect a politician be perfect. They are frustrated that Hillary Clinton is allowed no complexity.

The people who love Hillary Clinton see the failings of the general American media, where news entertains rather than informs. They bristle when benign stories about her are covered with an ominous tone, and book-ended with layers of innuendo. They see that for actions deserving of outrage, the outrage in her case is always outsized.

They know that she is a bit too careful, but they understand that she has to be, that she cannot afford spontaneity. At the debate, when she began a response with “As I recall … ” the people who love her held their breaths because they knew how it came across, as a little staged, a little planned, but they understood. Her words have been so often plucked out of context and turned into scalding weapons, her actions so falsely magnified, that she leaned into caution, wrapped herself in a kind of caution that sometimes makes her appear stilted and in the media world of appearances, stilted can mean insincere. Hillary Clinton is not a performer. She does not have that charismatic flair—which she does not need to be a good president. But she is running for president in a country that expects news to be entertainment, and politicians to be performers, and so suspicion automatically hangs over her lack of public charisma.

Because Hillary Clinton is a woman, she is judged too harshly for doing what most politicians do—hedging sometimes, waffling sometimes, evading sometimes. Politicians are ambitious; they have to be. Yet for Hillary Clinton, ambition is often an accusation. She is held responsible for her husband’s personal failings, in the gendered assumption that a wife is somehow an adult and a husband a child.

There are millions of Americans who do not have the self-indulgent expectation that a politician be perfect. They are frustrated that Hillary Clinton is allowed no complexity. And they love her.

The Sellout | Paul Beatty’s Tragicomedy about Racism in America

imagesThe Sellout by Paul Beatty is about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court. Born in the ‘agrarian ghetto’ of Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, the narrator of the The Sellout was raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

The Sellout was praised by critics for its humour and satirical content. It challenges the tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.

Excerpt
“We lived in Dickens, a ghetto community on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, and as odd as it might sound, I grew up on a farm in the inner city. Founded in 1868, Dickens, like most California towns except for Irvine, which was established as a breeding ground for stupid, fat, ugly, white Republicans and the chihuahuas and East Asian refugees who love them, started out as an agrarian community. The city’s original charter stipulated that “Dickens shall remain free of Chinamen, Spanish of all shades, dialects, and hats, Frenchmen, redheads, city slickers, and unskilled Jews.” However, the founders, in their somewhat limited wisdom, also provided that the five hundred acres bordering the canal be forever zoned for something referred to as “residential agriculture,” and thus my neighborhood, a ten-square-block section of Dickens unofficially known as the Farms was born. You know when you’ve entered the Farms, because the city sidewalks, along with your rims, car stereo, nerve, and progressive voting record, will have vanished into air thick with the smell of cow manure and, if the wind is blowing the right direction-good weed. Grown men slowly pedal dirt bikes and fixies through streets clogged with gaggles and coveys of every type of farm bird from chickens to peacocks. They ride by with no hands, counting small stacks of bills, looking up just long enough to raise an inquisitive eyebrow and mouth: “Wassup? Q’vo?” Wagon wheels nailed to front-yard trees and fences lend the ranch-style houses a touch of pioneer authenticity that belies the fact that every window, entryway, and doggie door has more bars on it and padlocks than a prison commissary. Front porch senior citizens and eight-year-olds who’ve already seen it all sit on rickety lawn chairs whittling with switchblades, waiting for something to happen, as it always did.”

48574434-cached“The first 100 pages of [Paul Beatty’s] new novel, The Sellout, are the most caustic and the most badass first 100 pages of an American novel I’ve read in at least a decade. I gave up underlining the killer bits because my arm began to hurt . . . [They] read like the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility . . . The jokes come up through your spleen . . . The riffs don’t stop coming in this landmark and deeply aware comic novel . . . [It] puts you down in a place that’s miles from where it picked you up.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Swiftian satire of the highest order . . . Giddy, scathing and dazzling.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

Paul Beatty is the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, 2016. He is the of three novels— Slumberland, Tuff, and The White Boy Shuffle—and two books of poetry: Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He is the editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor. He lives in New york.

The Sellout – Wall Street Journal Best Books of the Year, NPR Best Book of the Year, Hurston/Wright LEGACY Award – Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Awards – Nominee, National Book Critics Circle Awards Winner, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year, Man Booker Prize Nominee, NYT Outstanding Books of the Year, New Yorker Best Books of the Year, San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, Boston Globe Best Books of the Year, Time Out New York Best Books of the Year, Buzzfeed Best Books of the Year, Man Booker Prize Winner, Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year.