BookReview! Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

Photo credit: Neil Williamson via Flickr

Here are Nigerian women at home and transplanted to the United States, building lives out of longing and hope, faith and doubt, the struggle to stay and the mandate to leave, the burden and strength of love. Here are characters faced with dangerous decisions, children slick with oil from the river, a woman in love with another despite the penalties. Here is a world marked by electricity outages, lush landscapes, folktales, buses that break down and never start up again. Here is a portrait of Nigerians that is surprising, shocking, heartrending, loving, and across social strata, dealing in every kind of change. Here are stories filled with language to make your eyes pause and your throat catch. Happiness, Like Water introduces a true talent, a young writer with a beautiful heart and a capacious imagination.

 Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Published: 2013 | Publisher: Mariner Books | Pages: 208


Happiness, Like Water was a pleasure to read. I initially heard of Chinelo Okparanta when her story, ‘America’ was nominated for the Caine Prize in 2013, along with Pede Hollist, Elnathan John, Abubakar A. Ibrahim and the winner, Tope Folarin.

In this collection of ten short stories, Chinelo 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 tones 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 story telling is unique- she occasionally blends authentic folk tales to 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 novels are known to be full of with stories that are quite depressing and end tragically. However, Chinelo’s stories are full of life as we get acquainted with her characters and the issues they face. While some of the stories do not have happy endings, her story ‘Grace’ made me question what ‘happiness’ truly was. According to this story, “Happiness is like water. We’re always trying to grab onto it, but it’s always slipping between our fingers” (pg. 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.

“Tumours 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.

Purchase Happiness, Like Water on Amazon.

Darkowaa (@AwoDeee) is an American born Ghanaian, currently living where her heart feels most at home- Accra, Ghana. She doesn’t consider herself a writer or a bookworm… She prefers to call herself an African Book Addict! Books written by people of African descent / from the African diaspora excite her the most, and hopefully they’ll excite you too!

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