Book Review

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi

a very american-feeling memoir about being rich and successful and a literal god?

January 28th, 2022

I hate that I am depressed. I hate that every moment of my life where I am not aggressively distracted by work, literature, music, cinema, sex or intoxication, I just find myself desperately wishing for death (more that I was already dead, rather than dying). When I’m not medicated enough, I hold onto those thoughts and I start self-harming and self-sabotaging and probably need to be taken to a hospital. I’m closer to that state than I’d like to be, at the moment, with the lockdown finally ending but still stuck with months of another one of Toronto’s atrocious winters left to live through, with my job kicking back into a time-consuming black hole and having done nothing in the time of its brief abatement1, I am in a position where my lack of hope for the future is pretty reasonable (imho) to feel. Yes, I’m thrilled I can resume going to the gym three or four times a week to treadmill and watch HBO, and maybe I’ll be in a better mood when I’m in better shape, but-

I hate that I am depressed. I hate that I feel uncomfortable and not right within my body at all times. I don’t feel welcome or appropriate wherever and whenever I am, unless I’m directly being paid money to do something, or am otherwise aware of what the ultimate transactional nature of the interaction is.

I hate that I am depressed. I hate that I don’t get to be one of those people who lives every day as if it’s their last, who finds affirming phrases affirmative, who is able to hold onto minor achievements and victories without also holding onto grudges and regrets. I know that in many ways I have been lucky. In some ways, yes, I’ve been unlucky, too, and often things that have seemed lucky have turned out to be bad over time, but in the context of the entire human race, I know I am relatively lucky. I’m bald, yes, which isn’t ideal, and I need to wear glasses, but my legs still look great even as my face and torso deteriorate in response to the inaction forced upon me by COVID and the declining metabolism of encroaching middle age. I am literate, and have got to experience many of the most powerful and beautiful works of written art created in my own language and, thanks to our globalised world, in translation from other languages and cultures, too. I exist in a time where technology allows me instant access to high quality recordings of a thousand lifetime’s worth of music, where cinema is something that can be experienced in the palm of my hand (perspective is real: a phone close to my face in the dark is no different to a wall-sized screen the other side of a room), and I also have a very handsome dog and a beautiful, entertaining2 and intelligent lover. I also have my very own mini-discoball, and though it is just shards of a broken mirror glued to a polystyrene ball, it’s one of my favourite possessions, and it’s probably of less material value than a non-fancy pair of [under]pants.

I hate that I’m depressed, I do, and this novel about a they/them type of person who feels detached from normal society is the kind of thing that I would expect to resonate with me, but it didn’t. At all. And though I literally don’t have any friends where I live, and feel isolated and deservedly so, I don’t think it would be a positive step to claim that this is because I am super-special, that this is because I am not a human, that I am the soul of a god trapped, for the span of a lifetime, in a human body. It would be nice, I suppose. It would probably be heavenly.

I would love to feel, to believe, to know, that this was the case, and to feel, to believe, to know, that the same was true for the tiny handful of people in the world who I love the most, but the thing is, it wouldn’t help, because it wouldn’t be true.

Dear Senthuran is not a novel, it is a memoir written by a non-human inhabiting a human body. It is dangerous, in my opinion, and in some of its depiction and discussion of identity, it almost feels like right-wing propaganda/satire trivialising LGBTQ+ identities. The narrator tells the story of their life, discovering and exploring a queer identity, then a trans identity, and then – as if it is one more step – a deity-identity.

Maybe I completely misread this book. 

Maybe the very American materialism and bragging about status that put me off was Emezi describing their (very real!) success in the same way that I keep mentioning I was (once) quoted in the New Yorker and was (once) ‘Highly Commended’ in the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2019: that it is, to Emezi themself, unbelievable… 

but a god isn’t low status, a being who claims to be a god, who claims to be able to twist reality at will is not low status… or maybe they are? 

Maybe through all of that, through all of the confidence and the braggadocio, there is an expectation that the reader will see an implied acknowledgment of luck alongside the talent and drive?

The American belief that any success that is earned is success that is inherently deserved is oozing out of every page: a modest person does not claim to be a god; a sympathetic millionaire does not claim they got their wealth solely by manifesting their destiny, especially when they conspicuously blur the economic details of their background.

To be fair, Dear Senthuran is beautifully written, it is evocative and its descriptions are vivid and very affecting, but the binary of a person choosing to embody despair or deity is a horrible dichotomy, and not a replicable state.

Maybe I’m just unsympathetic. 

Maybe my attitude and my tone is reactionary and racist. 

Maybe my, white, European, cultural ideas of what it means to claim and assert godhead are vastly incompatible with traditional Igbo beliefs, maybe these world-views and histories are too far apart and I am too old and not as progressive as I’d like to be and I’m just wrong about this.

But Dear Senthuran made me feel bad, it made me feel worried, it made me feel like Akwaeke Emezi has got to a point in their life where it is possible for them to say that they are not of this world, that their problems are god problems, not people problems, and – because they have financial security – they have nothing to worry about. But there are always things to worry about, there will always be things to worry about and not worrying about things is tantamount to not caring about things, no? To love is to care and to care is to worry, no? There will always be things to cause us pain, if we emote and empathise and sympathise and all the other feelings-related verbs, too, right? To live is to hurt, to be a person is to be fallible, to be alive is to one day die.

We are not unhappy because we are gods, we are unhappy because we exist deep within extractive capitalist systems, and – as Emezi does – buying a big house away from the city and hiding in it forever is kicking the problem down the road, not solving the problem. Although, I have to be honest, if I could buy a big (or small!) house (or flat!) somewhere beautiful and warm and hide in it forever, then I probably would, too.

Sorry. Sorry to me and sorry to you.

1. I mean not nothing, I was still working full time (just for like 40 hours a week rather than the more normal number of hours for an actual full time job), I recorded a song “Handsome Mr Dog (Your Name Is)”, submitted some poems to some magazines for the first time in almost a year (later edit – all rejected!), celebrated Christmas with my sister, got quoted in the New Yorker (lol), read a lot, and I wrote a lot of cerrrappp on this blog (which isn’t a constructive thing, is it? This has been going for NINE YEARS now and other than the books and stuff and being quoted in the New Yorker, hasn’t really “done” anything for me. I even once posted a scathing review of my own debut book by a man who is, essentially, the dark opposite of me, and now an anti-vaxxer lol. 2. That adjective isn’t used enough to describe people warmly, but, yes, it fucking matters. My lover is also kind and caring and supportive blah blah blah whatever etc, but those are easy things to be; everyone is those things if they’re not a dickhead, but it’s not the case that most people are entertaining. Most people are boring as shit, most of the time. is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

0 comments on “Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: