Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
Jesuit with Spokane ties tells stories of Africa’s children; ‘The Informant!’ a ‘dark comedy’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 22, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

The Jesuit priest Uwem Akpan spent two years of his preparation for ordination in Spokane, at Gonzaga University, taking courses in philosophy and English. His powerful new book of short stories on children in Africa is titled Say You’re One of Them. It is published by Back Bay Books, an affiliate of Little, Brown and Company of Boston, for a list price of $14.99.

On Sept. 18 the book was named as the next selection of the Oprah Book Club. It is the first collection of short stories to be chosen as an Oprah book. Father Akpan’s book will now sell hundreds of thousands (if not a million) copies.

Father Akpan writes five short stories of children’s lives in African countries from Kenya to Nigeria and Rwanda and beyond. Two of the stories first appeared in The New Yorker in slightly different form.

Three of the stories stand out for me.

“Fattening for Gabon” tells the story of two children who have an uncle who has just received a beautiful new motorcycle. We see events through the eyes of the children as we begin to realize that the uncle has sold the children into slavery. But the give and take between the conscience of the uncle and his relationship with the children and others makes for a very suspenseful story. Like all the stories, it is haunting and tragic.

“Luxurious Hearses” is the story of a young teen, Jubril, who was baptized Catholic in the southern part of Nigeria. As a young boy, when the parents are separated, he moves to his mother’s side of the family. He is raised a Muslim and he is a dedicated believer. But he has been beaten up by young thugs because they don’t think he is Muslim enough. For his safety he is in a bus filled mainly with Christians going to the south. He is wearing a Marian medal so people will think he is a Christian and he must keep his arm in his pocket because his hand has been cut off for stealing an animal. The give-and-take of the people on the bus waiting to leave the North is extraordinary and the ending shows us what it is like to be a Muslim martyr.

The darkest of the stories, “My Parents’ Bedroom,” is the last. In relatively few pages, we are told of a daughter seeing the incredible violence that takes place in a family of mixed tribal ancestry during the overwhelming genocide of Rwanda.

Some of the children in the stories escape darkness and death and give us some sense of hope.

The beauty of Father Akpan’s impressive writing is he takes you vividly to a world that is distant, and yet it is a world filled with the basic human yearnings of all people. Say You’re One of Them certainly will make a difference in your knowledge of the world. But it may well change your outlook and affect your life of prayer.

Movie Reviews

When Matt Damon appears on the scene early in the new Steven Soderbergh film The Informant! you want to like him, but with the strange mustache, large hairpiece, and 30-pound increase in weight, you can’t help but think his character, Mark Whitacre, may be more than a little off-kilter.

Soderbergh has taken a serious business story about possible price fixing of food additives by the large agribusiness, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and made it into a humorous and somewhat dark comedy. The story is based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald, with liberal additions. It’s not the type of film during which you laugh out loud a lot, but it is very intriguing, based on the lively script and the wonderful acting of Matt Damon.

Mark Whitacre is an intense if somewhat dorky vice-president of ADM, where he has been a career biologist. Mark claims to his bosses that there is a mole in the company who is allowing a Japanese competitor to foul up the manufacturing of the food additive lysine. The company calls in the FBI and the home phone of a cooperating Mark is tapped. But at the urging of his wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynsky), Mark secretly shocks the FBI agents led by Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula), telling them that ADM is involved in a massive world-wide price-fixing scheme. From this point on the story gets pretty wild and Mark seems to think he is a super agent for the FBI. He calls himself 0014 because he is twice as smart as James Bond. But as the story continues it becomes more and more clear that Mark has been withholding lots of information about his own activities. And we actually go through charges and counter-charges that lead up to a major court case.

Between several scenes at the beginning of the film, Mark gives a voiceover that helps us begin to know that he sees the world rather differently than most people. His wife Ginger stays with him in a rather kind and strange way throughout the story.

The Informant! is an extremely creative movie that not everyone will enjoy. But for the person who is willing to go along way with a very serious event played for its rather subtle and not-so-subtle humor, The Informant! is an absorbing film.

The Informant! is rated R- restricted – (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian). The film is R rated because of language. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-III – for adults.


Late in September a friend invited me to see the movie My One and Only. He said he had heard it was a good film. I said “Yes” but questioned the decision because I had heard that the film was about the life of the “B” actor George Hamilton. I can report that My One and Only is a very good and entertaining movie. If you missed it in theaters mark down the title for the upcoming DVD in a couple of months.

The film is the coming-of-age story of George, played by Logan Lerman. It takes place in the early 1950s as George’s mom, Anne Devereaux (Renee Zellweger), has decided to leave her unfaithful husband Don (Kevin Bacon), a bandleader. She sends George to a New York City Cadillac dealer to buy a baby blue convertible Eldorado. The salesmen don’t want to take the boy seriously until he has gone through the whole story of why he is there.

Thus begins a road trip across the United States, first to Boston, and finally to Los Angeles. Anne seeks to find a wealthy former friend or newcomer to marry to keep her two teenage boys safe and to live the life to which she has become accustomed.

Anne has not been the best mother, but she is well-intentioned, and by the movie’s end has made some movements to be less self-centered and more aware of her two sons. In the beginning she doesn’t even know what New York school they go to.

Among the friends she seeks to possibly marry are those played by Chris Noth and Eric McCormack.

We see the action through the eyes of George, who wants some acknowledgment that his mother even knows the very minimum about who he is.

Director Richard Loncraine gives us the flavor of the early ’50s with all the classic cars. He uses his actors to their advantage as he tells a very interesting story. Zellweger is on the screen most of the film and is not afraid to play an older woman. Logan Lerman does a fine job as the young teen searching for the hope and meaning of his future life.

If knowing about George Hamilton doesn’t seem that enjoyable, just forget that it is about George Hamilton and watch a young boy grow up rather rapidly and live some of his dreams.

My One and Only is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. It has some sexual content and language issues.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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