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Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi

‘I have received gifts beyond what I could have imagined for myself, and been torn apart to degrees I never thought I could survive. I think that is balance.’

This book is very important not only for the writer and the reader, but for those who see themselves in some of the letters. This memoir by Akwaeke Emezi is raw and clear. There were moments when I had to pause and this was hard for me because I gulp words and I am an eager reader. Reading this memoir, I found myself taking breaks satisfied in a moment, full after every two letters and yearning in another. This is the power of this memoir, you have to take a step back, take deep breaths, ponder on the words, the intention and then go back into it again because there is more calling upon you. Akwaeke Emezi is a beautiful and sure writer. I say sure because the certainty in their works permeates the pages. After reading ‘The Death of Vivek Oji’ early this year (you can check out my review here) I immediately budgeted some money to buy ‘Dear Senthuran’ because it just seemed like something that would hit the right chords and it did.

This memoir is structured into letters to several people. The structure makes it an easy read even when some of the words are marked by hard realities. The honesty in the letters is at times heartbreaking and also inspiring because on some pages I wondered how one could come out of blazing fires alive? Emezi says not all fires burn you, you come out scathed, alive and in pain yet you know that the fires did not, could not, cannot burn you to ashes and therein lies your power. The letters in the memoir bring out several themes; growth, life as an ogbanje, life as a writer, family (finding and losing), friendship, searing childhood and relationship experiences and freedom attained and still yearned for. In as much as the work is structured into letters, there was never a time when I felt like I was secretly reading other people’s letters, in my mind the letters were for me, to teach, to open my eyes and to show me worlds beyond my own. There are lessons on life, love, money, writing and being. Three themes stood out for me in this memoir which are work, friendship and respect.

Whatever work you are called to do in this world you must do it, it will demand to be done. Emezi is very clear that no matter what happens and what you experience the work must be fulfilled. ‘This is how I know that it doesn’t matter you think the goals are attainable. What matters is that they are impossible without the work, they cannot happen if you don’t make the work.’ It does not mean that the journey is linear and easy, it is just right as it should be. For Emezi, the work is their beginning In ‘Freshwater’ they write among other things about the pain of embodiment and in this memoir the layers to that pain are revealed. I love the letter about Toni Morrison because I am drawn to her work and its impact.

The power and beauty in friendships shines through in this memoir. Emezi faces so many challenges but the love in their friendships is what enables them to lay bare their pains and find people who help them through the journey. Even with their sister it is the friendship that holds them closest to each other. As they wrote this memoir, especially in the letter entitled ‘Dear Daniel’ one can tell that friendships can be grounding spaces, they say, ‘I am thinking about people who’ve helped me save my life.’There are pages filled with so much gratitude that is extended to friends and that is beautiful in a life that is ‘more of a loop, a cycle that includes a constant death, selves that are dying and being replaced, skins slipping on and off.’ There are friends who have held them through difficult seasons and those who have held them through the easy ones, they are all appreciated. The letters addressed to friends hold a thread of community, beyond space, time and being.

Emezi respects the place(s) they are in now without underplaying the past, they respect the person and spirit they are now without disregarding the person they used to be (or thought they were) that shaped so many of their experiences. They choose to move toward themselves no matter the cost because the shifts are necessary for their existence. There is power in their words and the way they have chosen to exist in this world (where they can make choices). ‘My therapist told me that when people think about power, they think about the choices that power will give them: options, resources, things like that. What they don’t often think about are the consequences of power. The things you lose, the things you sacrifice, the costs.’ I think that is profound. They respect themselves, the people in their lives and those that are still on their journeys. There is great power and respect in seeing yourself and others beyond the masks that the world demands each one of us to own. More inspiring is the respect for the power that they hold, the dreams that they have given birth to and those that they are still working towards.

I’ll be tucking away this book in that place where all my Akwaeke Emezi books lie and wait for me to open them again. There will be another time, there must be another time for their words strike chords that ask me to do more for myself and all that I believe in. This memoir is not all roses and blooms, it comes with the thorns too and that is what life looks like for most of us. The gloom is a part of the whole picture, a certain dark palette that is painful on its own. This is the thing, it does not stand on its own and should never be allowed to do so.


Book Details

Title: Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir

Author: Akwaeke Emezi

Genre: Memoir

Pages: 240

Publisher: Faber & Faber (2021)

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