Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories (Paperback)
June 2021 Indie Next List
“From comic book conventions to zombie outbreaks to a nightclub bathroom, Nkweti has crafted characters that shine in their unique predicaments. I’m obsessed with these stories, and grateful to Nkweti for sharing a part of the Cameroonian-American experience with us.”
— Halee Kirkwood, Birchbark Books and Gifts, Grand Marais, MN
A “boisterous and high-spirited debut” (Kirkus starred review)“that enthralls the reader through their every twist and turn” (Publishers Weekly starred review), named one of the Most Anticipated Books for Brittle Paper, The Millions, and The Rumpus, penned by a finalist for the AKO 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.
About the Author
Nana Nkweti is a Caine Prize finalist and alumna of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has garnered fellowships from MacDowell, Kimbilio, Ucross, and the Wurlitzer Foundation, among others. She is a professor of English at the University of Alabama.
“Raucous and thoroughly impressive. . . . Nkweti’s utterly original stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to heartbreaking, and are often both. . . . Sensitivity, nuance and keen attention to history shine through on every page of the collection. . . . These are stories to get lost in again and again.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A linguistic pole vaulter, [Nana] Nkweti bends language like a master. . . . Walking On Cowrie Shells is a terrific read, each story different and varied from the one before. Nkweti has proven herself a bright new star.”—NPR.org
“[Walking on Cowrie Shells] revels in variety—of character, style, and even genre. . . . Lively and fast-paced, funny and tragic, these stories refuse a singular African experience in favor of a vivid plurality.”—The New Yorker, Briefly Noted
“What unites all these stories is the strength of Nkweti’s writing; it crackles with energy and verve.”—BuzzFeed
“Audacious and masterful. . . . Anyone who appreciates authentic and original fiction will find something to love here. And that's a promise.”—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“It takes some verve to go from zombies and mermaids to Comic-Con to the suburbs of New Jersey and Cameroon and back again in a single collection, and Nkweti does it in her very first, which is vibrant and polyphonic. . . . [Her prose is] acrobatic and delightful.”—Lit Hub
“A vivacious collection with sentences that sizzle on the page. . . . Nkweti’s book is sharp and gorgeous.”—Women’s Review of Books
“Explosive prose and imaginative plots characterize this debut collection. . . . Nkweti’s stories offer a wonderfully immersive experience.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Beautiful and immersive. . . . Whether Nkweti is writing about water goddesses, zombies, or aspiring graphic novelists, she reveals and celebrates the rich inner lives of those who do not fit neatly into social and cultural categories. . . . Nkweti’s sentences soar, enthralling the reader through their every twist and turn, and often ending with a wry punch. . . . This is a groundbreaking and vital work.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Dazzling stories that are as diverse as they are vibrant. . . . Nkweti displays her virtuosity and elasticity through her prose. With the ease of a master, she shifts between points of view, between American and African slang, and between the straightforward and the avant-garde. Each story offers not only a different subject but also a different approach, a new plan of narrative attack to conquer each emotional landscape. The result is an intense, sweeping and altogether stunning reading experience.”—Bookpage, starred review
“Funny and heartbreaking and wonderfully ferocious. It’s been ages since I’ve read sentences with this much verve and snap.”—Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House
“Nana Nkweti’s exuberant collection is full of stories that weave together love and friendship, horror and comedy, all with great deftness.”—Yaa Gyasi, author of Transcendent Kingdom
“What an intoxicating book! Magical, funny, inventive and joyous, Nkweti’s tales remind us what storytelling can be.”—Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Less
“Let us thank whoever granted Nana Nkweti her all-access-pass to the human soul, for with it she is able to gain entry into the lives of women and men, children and adults, the damaged and the damaging, the human and the not-quite, all with equal clarity and conviction. Walking on Cowrie Shells is a collection of verve, audacity, and consummate control. That it is her first book makes it all the more astonishing.”—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Ghost Variations
“Nana Nkweti's ambitious, amphibious tales capture the diverse and complex experience of "hyphenated-Americans" who, like Nkweti, have deep roots in Africa and America. It would be impossible to overstate how much I love this book, and its author.”—Karen Russell, author of Orange World
“This totally vibrant collection spins a wonder of love and horror. . . .Nana Nkweti's words are dazzlingly energetic, world-ranging and straight-up brilliant.”—Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark