Honors for Happiness, Like Water
Nominated for the 2015 Nigerian Writers Awards (Young Motivational Writer of the Year)
2014 O. Henry Award, Winner, "Fairness"
2014 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, Winner
2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature, Finalist
2014 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, Finalist
2014 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in Literature, Finalist
2013 Best American Short Stories, Strout, E. & Pitlor, H. (Eds.)
Other Distinguished Stories, “America”
2013 Caine Prize for African Writing, Finalist, "America"
2013 Society of Midland Authors Award, Finalist
2013 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, Longlisted
2012 United States Artists Fellowship, Nominated
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
The Guardian's Best African Fiction of 2013
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.
The stories in Okparanta’s first collection are quiet, often unnervingly so, in the manner of a stifled shriek…One character notes the silences that fall between her and her mother, ‘as if we no longer valued spoken words, as if spoken words were gaudy finishes on a delicate piece of art, unnecessary distractions from the masterpiece, whose substance was more meaningfully experienced if left unornamented.’ If this is Okparanta’s goal – the distillation of experience into something crystalline, stark but lustrous – she is well on her way there.
—New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
In her first collection of stories, Nigerian-born Okparanta focuses primarily on African women and their relationships with family, lovers, colleagues, and the community at large. Okparanta draws on her experience as a Jehovah’s Witness growing up in Port Harcourt and immigrating to the U.S. These are fierce, unflinching stories of the complicated knotting of close ties and the strange behaviors of language. In stories of hearsay and rumor, Okparanta portrays the ways language creeps around social circles and intrudes, distorts, and penetrates the heart of life. In “Wahala!,” after receiving questionable advice from a shaman, a husband and wife hear chillingly different intonations in each other’s intimate exhalations. In “Fairness,” young girls overhear talk about using bleach to lighten skin color and experiment with the treatment to horrendous results. In other stories, Okparanta presents a picture of the U.S. as envisioned and talked about by Nigerians overseas. Named one of Granta’s New Voices, Okparanta joins the good company of young writers like NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names, 2013) and Téa Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife, 2011).
[Okparanta] confirms her place as a writer to watch with the remarkable debut collection Happiness, Like Water... A clear-eyed, sensitive debut collection of stories by a talented young Nigerian writer exploring themes of family, religion, longing and duty.
Okparanta skillfully introduces readers to a new world held back by old-world traditions.
Nigeria, the vibrancy of its heart, the soul of its people, is captured in these stories.
Bittersweet. . .[Happiness, Like Water] is an extremely promising debut: the handling of tone and perspective is assured; the prose lucid and elegant throughout.
—Financial Times (UK)
Okparanta is an unpretentious writer, but her ambition comes through in the lives she renders—young Nigerian women divided between home and a new world.
Happiness, Like Water is a collection about of Nigerian women both at home in Nigeria and relocated to the United States. As these women try to make sense of their new lives as mothers and wives in a new country, the reader sees the struggles that need to be overcome, and the emotions that come along with a major life change such as this.... [A] great use of writing to show the human condition.
...[A]stonishing. Her 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 of Tinkers
...[T]ender, beautiful and evocative. These powerful stories of contemporary Nigeria are told with compassion and a certain sense of humour. What a remarkable new talent.
—Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street
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, author of We Need New Names
A haunting and startlingly original collection of short stories about the lives of Nigerians both at home and in America. Okparanta’s characters are forced to make difficult, often impossible choices—a university student decides to go to work as an escort to pay for her mother’s medical bills, a high school teacher is asked to come home to care for her dying, abusive father—and yet they manage to prevail through quiet and sometimes surprising acts of defiance. Okparanta’s prose is elegant and precise, fueled by a strong undercurrent of rage that surfaces at unexpected moments. Happiness, Like Water is a deeply affecting literary debut, the work of a sure and gifted new writer.
—Julie Otsuka, author of National Bestseller and National Book Award Finalist The Buddha in the Attic
Without bluster, Chinelo Okparanta writes stories that are brave and devastating.
—Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist