A short fiction collection can be an enchanting contradiction. The assorted stories may defy easy classification as they span genres, styles and points of view, and yet they all spring from one writer’s singular voice. Cameroonian American writer Nana Nkweti commands such contradictions in her debut collection, Walking on Cowrie Shells, a cluster of 10 dazzling stories that are as diverse as they are vibrant.
There’s a great deal that unites the collection’s various worlds. Many of the stories address the immigrant experience and the resulting interaction of cultures, but even with that throughline, Nkweti’s tales explore a vast array of human experiences. Whether she’s probing the often shallow capitalist recesses of the adoption experience in “It Takes a Village Some Say” and the juxtaposition of faith traditions in “The Devil Is a Liar,” or exploring zombie outbreaks in “It Just Kills You Inside” and water spirits in the mythic romance “The Living Infinite,” Nkweti ensures that no two tales are alike, regardless of their thematic connective tissue.
Even beyond the variety of subject matter, 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.