Updated: Mar 21, 2019
Wow! This is a novel unlike any I have ever read before. I absolutely loved it. However, what did I absolutely love? Did I completely understand it? Nope. It seems to be a mixture of spiritual, magical realism, mental illness, sexuality and growing up all mashed into one. The Igbo definition for the multiple personalities or spirits residing within Ada’s psyche or brain, is ogbange. For some reason when Ada is born the gate between the ogbange’s world and ours is left open. It is usually closed severing the connection between the two worlds. This gate being left open means that the ogbange are aware of their existence and are constantly striving to return to their world. This anger manifests itself into Ada being an extremely angry and difficult child growing up.
When Ada moves away to college she is drugged and raped and the trauma of this horrible assault creates Asughara, another personality or spirit. Asughara, is malevolent and hungry. Taking over Aga completely and causing all sorts of havoc.
I think but am far from sure, that this book is, at its core, about mental illness. Ada’s multiple personalities take on the form of the Ogbange and Asughara, because of her cultural background. They cause the problems, such as cutting and self-harm, eating disorders, depression, and eventually suicide. I have to say that Emezi does a remarkable job of writing here. There are parts in this book where I felt anxious and sick myself and mortified at what Ada was going through. This book shows how debilitating and destructive mental illness can be. There is a very strong spiritual element to this book as well. The writing is beautiful, and this book does not feel like a debut at all. This book is based somewhat on Emezi’s life and you must commend her for taking on such an ambitious work in her first outing. Wonderful book, and I have a feeling it may make the shortlist of the Women’s Prize. 4.5 stars.
Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil artist based in liminal spaces. Born and raised in Nigeria, she received her MPA from New York University and was awarded a 2015 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship, She wond the 2017 Short Story Prize Africa. Her work has been published in various literary magazines, including Granta.
There is a wonderful interview here -