Winner of the O. Henry Award. “A haunting and startlingly original collection of short stories about the lives of Nigerians both at home and in America.”—Julie Otsuka, national bestselling author
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.
“Astonishing. Okparanta’s narrators render their stories with such strength and intimacy, such lucidity and composure, that in each and every case the truths of their lives detonate deep inside the reader’s heart, with the power and force of revelation."—Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
“Intricate, graceful prose propels Okparanta’s profoundly moving and illuminating book. I devoured these stories and immediately wanted more. This is an arrival.”—NoViolet Bulawayo, award-winning author of We Need New Names
“Okparanta’s prose is tender, beautiful and evocative. These powerful stories of contemporary Nigeria are told with compassion and a certain sense of humor. What a remarkable new talent.”—Chika Unigwe, author of Night Dancer
In this collection of 10 empathetic short stories, Okparanta chronicles life in her native Nigeria and the immigrant experience in America. Her characters mostly hail from Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, where, in "On Ohaeto Street," a woman revises her image of her wealthy husband after a violent burglary. "Story, Story!" features a childless teacher who slowly and chillingly reveals her real interest in the pregnant woman she befriends. In "America," a female science teacher has an affair with another woman and faces a choice between two different ways of life. The later stories relocate to America, mainly Boston, where, in "Shelter," a Nigerian woman trying to free herself and her daughter from the woman's abusive husband runs into the indifference of local social workers. In "Designs," a Nigerian student is torn between his childhood sweetheart and his American girlfriend. And in "Tumours and Butterflies," a high school teacher is sucked back into her abusive father's orbit after he's diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Okparanta skillfully introduces readers to a new world held back by old-world traditions, but a sameness to her stories, which typically involve teachers, students, same-sex relationships, and abuse, makes the focus of this collection too constricted.