Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir

Akwaeke Emezi

Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir
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Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir

Akwaeke Emezi

A raw exploration of identity that shatters boundaries and explodes the way we think about the idea of the self.

In letters addressed to their friends, to members of their family - both biological and chosen - and to fellow storytellers, Akwaeke describes the shape of a life lived in overlapping realities. Through heartbreak, chronic pain, intimacy with death, becoming a beast, this is embodiment as a nonhuman: outside the boundaries imposed by expectations and legibility. This book is an account of the grueling work of realignment and remaking necessary to carve out a future for oneself.

The result is a black spirit memoir: a powerful, raw unfolding of identity.

Review

Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir is written as a collection of letters to friends. It’s both exhilarating and exhausting – like a friend calling you up and unloading their dramas onto you – but if you’re patient and let Emezi roll, then the prose, which is volcanic, will carry you through this memoir in a state of amazement.

This is the catalogue of Emezi’s literary ascent and their personal struggles. As a writer they burst onto the scene with the novel Freshwater in 2018, have written three books since, been on the cover of Time magazine, and bought a lavish house in New Orleans. They are confident in their talent. At the same time the bedrock of this story is, as the blurb says, Emezi’s ‘gruelling work of realignment and remaking necessary to carve out a future for oneself’. Around the time Emezi publicly came out as trans, they also came to identify as an Ogbanje, which in the Nigerian Igbo tradition are accursed spirit children. Dear Senthuran details, at full force, Emezi’s struggle to be recognised for who they are. Emezi appears in constant conflict with fellow writers, lovers, their parents, friends. The details are juicy and harrowing: book deals, surgeries, affairs, trysts. ‘There is something bright and brilliant in me. It doesn’t make me feel special it makes me feel terribly alone.’

There is something irresistible about the momentum Dear Senthuran conjures line by line. There is so much Emezi in this memoir, and though that leaves not much room for anyone else, it is also a strength of the book – it delivers a maddening, ferocious experience. You are forced in, closer and closer to Emezi’s self. While some readers may be challenged by Dear Senthuran’s hyper- individualistic measures of success, others are going to be blown away by this fierce and unapologetic book.


Ender Başkan is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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