Happiness, Like Water was a pleasure to read. In this collection of ten short stories, Chinelo Okparanta takes us to and fro from Nigeria to the USA through the tales of Nigerian families and friends, simply living life as they know it. This collection cuts across social status, spirituality, sexuality, and skin tone of the characters it highlights. Chinelo tells tales of the struggles of immigrant life, the burden and strength of love, the social pressures of skin lightening (amongst the Nigerian community in Nigeria/USA), the family pressures of marriage and childbearing, the ‘shame’ and confusion faced by Africans who question their sexualities, domestic abuse, and various other issues.
Chinelo’s style of storytelling is unique—she occasionally blends authentic folk tales with her modern day stories and I often felt as if a friend laden with great imagination was telling me a detailed, unpredictable story in my living room. I could feel the helplessness of some of the characters, taste the garri with akamu dinners, and see the zinc roofs shining in the hot Port Harcourt sun, grâce à Chinelo’s tangible writing ability.
Short story collections are known to be full of stories that are quite depressing and end tragically. However, Chinelo’s stories are full, and have inspired me to read other short story collections. Her story “Grace” made me question what “happiness” truly is. According to this story, “Happiness is like water. We’re always trying to grab onto it, but it’s always slipping between our fingers” (p. 144). Interesting food for thought!
My favorite stories were:
“On Ohaeto Street” – A funny story on Jehovah’s Witnesses, marriage, and the troubles riches bring.
“Story, Story!” – A hilarious story of a wicked, childless woman who manipulates innocent members of a church.
“Tumors and Butterflies” – A liberating tale on a daughter-father relationship that was quite controlling.
Happiness, Like Water is an amazing debut short-stories novel for Chinelo Okparanta. This book actually stirred my interest to read more short story novels.
Review by Darkowaa Adu-Kofi