Akwaeke Emezi is a new, wonderfully fresh, voice to add to the many memoirs of living with C-PTSD (psychobabble below review) and surviving a traumatic childhood. Most go in rote portrayal through X happened, Y is the dysfunctional way we (identity states) dealt with it, Z is the (usually much healthier) way we learned to cope and the place we landed by the writing of the memoir/book.
Instead Emezi gives protagonist Ada and her self-states their own music and more importantly, own heritage, in telling a magical, spiritual, semi-autobiographical story of how the many came to be and worked their way through life to become the person they are now. They are distinctly Nigerian, and all of that Western psychobabble below is inadequate for anyone who hasn't sprung forth directly from a textbook - even for a person who grew up in the West. Imagine how absurd it is to anyone whose background is infused with spiritual aspects, beliefs and legends the West does not allow for.
An ogbanje is an Igbo spirit born into a human body, and this is how Emezi sees her young protagonist's system of being. There is a body and the body plays host to a number of gods and people, each running the whole system from time to time, weaving in and out to deal with the situation. When you think about it, we all have parts of ourselves that take over for certain situations. You at work are not the same you that crawls into bed with a partner at night or the same you who studied hard in university or the same you who did something you may not be so proud of. Everyone's identity works on a sort of continuum.
What Emezi has done so specially is tell her protagonist's story including all of the possibilities. Yes traumatic things happened, but perhaps she was born primed to be more than just one. Perhaps the ogbanje were there, just waiting for a chance to assert themselves. Others are born along the way. We do follow the general arc of birth to present, but the path is gorgeously written, spiritual and magical.
I could either quote the whole book or tell you what happens at every step, but I won't. I will tell you that like many lives, hers is not easy. They are different; Ada's life has more scary places than others. Parts of her react dysfunctionally, she goes "mad." Hard things happen, but they take on significance for the unique way the many who live within the body called Ada cope with each new horror, wonder or challenge.
The prose is lyrical and beautiful even when the events described are not. While it's fantastical, it's also very truthful. Perhaps this much truth can only be safely told by spirits, gods and a little bit of magic. The end is uplifting. If we are going to read "DID Memoirs" or stories of difference - be they about race, states of being, health, illness, whatever, let this be one you read.
-- And as promised, psychobabble:
Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is the newest Western nomenclature for what we used to call Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) - which itself is the name used since 1994 for something formerly called "Multiple Personality Disorder" - a very misleading and much maligned term/diagnosis. C-PTSD et al are not a personality disorder, but rather the lack of a unified self-state or identity. The identities act as centers of information processing.
The term "personality" means "characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, moods and behaviors of the whole individual," while for a person with C-PTSD, the switches between identities and behavior patterns is the personality. So it's just a different way to process the world and oneself. It's not Sybil or the Three Faces of Eve or even very strange. It's called C-PTSD because it usually stems from a trauma so long-lasting or severe that the child creates a complex way to cope.
Glad we cleared that up.
A well written academic book written in a style and at a scientific level that most of us can connect with, even if we can’t quite compute all the scholarly depth that make up the full picture. I definitely place myself in ‘the superficial understanding’ category but never felt intimidated by complexity. Wylie reexplores evolutionary biology bringing into play his clinical and philosophical knowledge and private observations in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, and medicine. Wylie’s observations which build into a broad psychological theory that fits as a complementary extension to classic Darwinism, add considerably to our conventional understanding of human evolution. With the obvious exception of many dogmatic scripturalists, I think this book has a lot for all those interested in why we are what we are questions. Wylie adds to our understanding of personality evolution, looking at the intellectual creature that with all the psychological baggage we carry from our ancestors.
I did rather question some of what I read to be rather afterthought attempts to tie in sacred spirituality and philosophy. I guess some attempt at this is, though, beneficial if it might draw in all but the most dogmatic of ‘Abrahamists’. Anyway, arguably, religion could not be left out of a fully rounded ‘thesis’. Otherwise I had no personal issues with any ideas in this very well written book. Nearly always, Wylie found simple ways of distilling out the complexity of his arguments. A few more real-life anecdotes from Wylie’s career would I’m sure add a great deal of enjoyment for the general reader, without losing the focus required by the more scholastic. This is a serious book, exploring the whys and wherefores from a full range of psychological illnesses balanced against normal, (average), behaviours, that make us the deep thinking but not always rational creatures that we have become.
I have to confess that I did a thing which I am always telling people they shouldn't guilt themselves into doing...I read a book that I wasn't really all that interested in reading. My rationale was that I had gone out of my way (interlibrary loan from a different state) to get this book and I didn't want to admit that it wasn't worth the effort. *sigh*
The book that I'm referring to is Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin. I want to give you a central theme or something to succinctly explain it but the closest I can manage is saying that it's about a man who is battling an inner turmoil while also trying to be a competent psycho-analyst. There's a lot of discussion around the validity of a medical degree vs hands-on training which leads to our main character, Felix Milne, taking on a very difficult case to 'prove' that he is just as capable as a medical professional. His patient was recently involved in a traumatic experience in the war and as a result he experienced a psychotic break from reality and tried to murder his wife. While Milne tries to uncover the root of this man's troubles he continues to ignore the cause of his own marital problems. He has a strained and virtually platonic relationship with his wife and actively struggles with his feelings for her best friend. I guess there's an irony there that he is able to ascertain and ultimately help heal what ails his patients but he can't clearly see that he is the cause of his own misfortunes and unhappiness. Milne is an acerbic and not altogether likable character who plays God with those he seeks to help (and his wife). He justifies this by saying that it's a necessary part of their treatment that they come to see him this way. I don't think I can say with any conviction that I liked this book. The characters were one dimensional, the plot was fairly predictable, and the ending was highly unsatisfactory. I can't even say that I recommend it to ________ or ________. 0/10
PS They made it into a film. Why?
What's Up Next: Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
What I'm Currently Reading: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey