“Life is an ambivalent lover. One moment, you are everything and life wants to consume entirely. The next moment, you are an insignificant speck of nothing. Meaningless.“
Kambirinachi is an ogbanje. She is a spirit that keeps getting born as a human, but she never lives long enough and always dies and returns to the spirit world. Then she makes the decision to live and lives in fear of a retaliation from the gods for not returning. She lives a full life and experiences love, loss and gets married. She has twin girls – Taiye and Kehinde. The three of them become estranged when Kehinde suffers a traumatic experience and the three end up in different countries. Kambirinachi remains in Nigeria, Taiye moves to the UK and Kehinde is in Canada.
A long time has passed and the three reunite in Lagos as Taiye has moved back and Kehinde is visiting with her husband. The three have to come together and relearn each other and the book tells us their life stories from each of their perspectives and how each, in their own way, dealt with the fallout from what happened to Kehinde.
I finally gave a book 5 stars y’all.
It’s so hard to believe that this is a debut effort because it was so beautifully written. It had all the elements of things I enjoy in a book – complex/flawed characters, family sagas that span generations and beautiful writing that draws you in. Over the years when the sisters were estranged, Taiye wrote letters to Kehinde that she never sent. Taiye’s ex sends the letters without her knowledge and Kehinde reads them when she is in Lagos. Ekwuyasi’s choice to narrate their stories and go back in time, through these letters was such a fantastic choice. We go through the past and the present so seamlessly.
“Our relationship has always struggled against our twinness.”
The friction between the twins were the focal point but Taiye read like the main character. And boy was she a fully fleshed out character. Queerness is still not embraced in the Nigerian culture and I enjoyed how Ekwusayi didn’t make it an issue or a big deal. It was just Taiye’s sexuality, nothing to make a big deal about. Taiye was hella flawed but I am so glad that it had nothing to do with her being gay. Oh and even as flawed as she was, Taiye was the character that you were rooting for.
Taiye loves food and cooking and wants to be a chef and this was made clear throughout the book. Ekwuyasi gave us recipes for every thing Taiye cooked. When I say we were given recipes, I don’t mean in the typical way of listing ingredients and steps. We were given those but I don’t know the magic Ekwuyasi performed but it was written so beautifully and woven into the story. She made it clear thatcooking was a love language of Taiye’s.
The one gripe I had is there seem to be an influx of Nigerian writers who are writing about ogbanjes. As a Nigerian, I am familiar with it and I know it is part of the culture but it now seems like a lazy trope that is being infused for a western audience that isn’t as familiar with it. I often wondered why the author chose to make Kambiri’s issue her ogbanje-ness vs. what seemed like a mental illness or depression.
I honestly could go on and on forever as I remember various parts of the book. Even though it details the unpacking of a trauma. It still goes through a lovely friendship, a loving marriage, a loving yet toxic relationship. I don’t think it matters what the topic was, the best thing about this book was the writing, you’d be willing to go on the journey. I highly recommend this book, if you couldn’t already tell!