It’s been a while since I wrote anything for the blog, so I thought I would ease myself into it by writing about the books I read recently.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
I’m a bit taken by this author. I have now read all the published work featured on her website and this autobiographical novel, which happens to be her debut.
The protagonist, and one of the narrators, Ada, is Nigerian-Tamil and not wholly of this world. She is Ogbanje, translated to mean “children who come and go.” The spirits reside in her, demanding her body and mind, and sacrifices that cost her. These spirits have names and identities and personalities. They affect Ada in unique ways, they reside in that realm which is neither life nor death.
Freshwater is steeped in Igbo folklore, rituals and beliefs. It is an exploration of a trans identity in the Africa of today, and the state of the mind, and how these issues can be delicately examined through a pre-colonial lens.
After she is sexually violated in college, another spirit emerges, one she names Asughara, who exhibits a vigorous sexual appetite and dominates Ada from thereon, breaking up her marriage and even pushing her to kill herself. There is also Saint Vincent, and Yshwa, and We, the brothersister who have been with her since she was a foetus. It would be terribly reductive to say this is a novel about mental health, it really is so much more. Ada’s journey to a place where she accepts who she is and understands what she must do to carry on living is frightening and magical. It is bloody too.
There was a line I loved (among many others) – a character tells Ada that he cannot discuss these things with her in an air-conditioned cafe in Lagos. Of course he can’t, the stale air leaves no room for ancient wisdom.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Have you ever been to a Book Club? I seem to be a bit resistant towards this idea. I start feeling things like “But why should you tell me what to read?” or “Do I have to definitely discuss it with you?” or “Why do you insist on making reading resemble a chore?”
I finally decided to set aside my misgivings for a little while and read The Argonauts, which was a Book Club pick. I may show up for the discussion too. But I may want to sit in a corner, hidden from view.
I wish I had liked this book more, but I found myself unable to get into it. The author explores her relationship with gender-fluid artist Harry Dodge, being in a non-traditional partnership, pregnancy and motherhood. The author interrogates herself, and allows us to bear witness. It is written in the tradition of women writing about their intimate lives, as literary and intellectual thought exercises. I wish I didn’t have an “Okay, so?” ringing in my head all the while I was reading this. I enjoyed A Handbook For My Lover by Rosalyn D’Mello so much more.