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Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories


Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories

Each of the 10 stories in this collection is a gem. WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS is a wild ride of imagination from the wild imagination of Nana Nkweti, a West African woman who moved to Brooklyn and brought all the joy and vigor of her homeland with her. Jumping genres and creating characters who explode off the page, this impressive debut is a bold splash of language that will outshine anything else you read this summer. From the beautiful textured cover to her regally gorgeous author photo on the back, Nkweti’s first book is sure to win her a massive audience.

Nkweti, who studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches English at the University of Alabama, is truly worthy of the term “creative writer.” Her concoction of languages, vibrant descriptions, utterly honest and hilarious population of yearning humanity, surreal storylines and innocent humor all come together in a wholly original way. The book reminds me of both Zora Neale Hurston and Nora Ephron, her sense of place and purpose so refined yet so sharp and funny. WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS is perfect at 10 stories, but I sure would like more.

"Jumping genres and creating characters who explode off the page, this impressive debut is a bold splash of language that will outshine anything else you read this summer."

“Rain Check at MomoCon” is my personal favorite. The characters are dressed up, ready to go to a pop culture convention at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Speaking over each other, American youth slang interspersed with Cameroonian phrases, these kids express themselves with the bubbly exuberance and invention of surrealistic hip-hop stylists. There are even awesome black and white illustrations to show their imaginations at work: “Astrid flashes to a vivid scene…. In her visions, Astrid is an avenger, fifty feet tall, fearless, katana in hand. Her voice a banshee scream, booming with conviction. She could be utterly herself, whatever her mind’s eye imagines.” Nkweti’s characters are all like Astrid --- giant personalities on the inside, trying on the outside to adhere to the paper-thin rules of society, believing that you are the superhero and your dreams can come true.

As these people march across the pages, we find ourselves in a zombie outbreak in West Africa, fashioned by an angry but savvy PR guy. A journalist has lunch with an author who is described as “Ta-Nehisi Coates meets Marcus Garvey!” She asks him about his book, and he says it is about “tradition. About families gathered in a hut, sitting around one dish or one fire, telling their stories, eating as a whole, nourishing their souls. That’s what the book is about. Nourishment.”

And just like this hip Brooklyn boy finds the core of life in his writing, so do we in Nkweti’s looming adventures of boys and girls, men and women --- on different continents, of all ages --- finding their identity amidst the other millions of wandering souls on the planets. Each of them has something to offer, and Nkweti wants to make sure that we meet a bunch of the most original and creative ones in WALKING ON COWRIE SHELLS.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on July 2, 2021

Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories
by Nana Nkweti

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • ISBN-10: 1644450542
  • ISBN-13: 9781644450543