Kirkus Reviews QR Code
DEAR SENTHURAN by Akwaeke Emezi


A Black Spirit Memoir

by Akwaeke Emezi

Pub Date: June 8th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-593-32919-1
Publisher: Riverhead

A unique, visceral memoir from the author of The Death of Vivek Oji (2020).

How does a spirit child drawn from Nigerian tribal cosmology negotiate modern life? That's the metaphysical conundrum at the heart of this highly personal and unusual memoir. Emezi grew up in Aba, Nigeria, and identifies as ogbanje, an “Igbo spirit that’s born to a human mother, a kind of trickster that dies unexpectedly only to return in the next child and do it all over again.” In order to ameliorate their feelings of “flesh dysphoria” or “metaphysical dysphoria,” the author underwent multiple surgeries, including breast reduction and a “hysterectomy with a bilateral salpingectomy.” As Emezi writes, they chose “to mutate my body into something that would fit my spiritself.” Structured as a series of far-ranging letters written to friends, lovers, exes, family members, and others, the narrative raises questions about the author’s "embodied nonhuman" existence and Igbo conceptions of reality. While Emezi’s personal and professional travels have taken them around the world—Trinidad, Berlin, Johannesburg, Vietnam, Tanzania, and homes in Brooklyn and New Orleans—this book is not a travelogue. Although conventional elements of memoir reoccur—a painful breakup, estrangement from family members, career ups and downs—the author presents them as manifestations of a deity's "deeply traumatic" embodiment as a human being. Emezi attributes much of their meteoric rise—multiple literary award wins and nominations, National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honoree, etc.—to the casting of the right spell. The author is crystal-clear in their focus on "writing for people like me, not for a white gaze,” and seen through the prism of Igbo ontology, this adventurous life story is undoubtedly compelling. For some readers, getting past Emezi’s "outrageously arrogant" demand "for attention, for glory, for worship" as a self-described "bratty deity" may require a leap of faith and a modicum of empathy, a merely human trait.

Tribal spiritual beliefs meet contemporary literary acclaim in a powerful memoir.