In New Memoir, Emmanuel Iduma Traces His Family History Through the Biafran War

I Am Still with You: A Reckoning on Silence, Inheritance & History, set for 2023, is billed as “the story of countless families across the country who will never have answers for their loved ones.” Iduma calls it “the book I’ve been preparing to write for most of my life.”
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Emmanuel Iduma by Ayobami Adebayo.

Emmanuel Iduma by Ayobami Adebayo.

Emmanuel Iduma has announced the publication of his forthcoming title, I Am Still with You: A Reckoning on Silence, Inheritance & History. The Nigerian writer and art critic took to Instagram to share the cover and blurb of “the book I’ve been preparing to write for most of my life.”

It will be published in the US by Algonquin Books on February 21, 2023, and in the UK by William Collins on March 16. William Collins also acquired the Commonwealth rights. The description reads:

Already known as a gorgeous literary stylist and keen-eyed art critic, Emmanuel Iduma unfurls his inimitable, rhythmic prose to tell the story of his return to Nigeria, where he grew up, after years of living in New York. Though prompted in part by a family wedding and the death of his father, he had an urgent, elusive mission, as well: to learn the fate of his uncle Emmanuel, his namesake, who disappeared in the Nigerian Civil War in the late 60s. A conflict that left so many families broken, the war remains at the margins of the history books, almost taboo to discuss, so Iduma must stop in city after city throughout the Biafran region, reconnecting with relatives dear and distant to probe their memories, stopping at university libraries to furtively photocopy illicit books, and visiting half-abandoned monuments along the highway. And perhaps, if he can understand how his father grieved the loss of his brother, Iduma might learn how to grieve his father, in turn.  

Equal parts memoir, national history, and political reckoning, this is a story of loss and grief, both deeply personal and collective. It’s the story of countless families across the country and across the world who will never have answers or proper funerals for their loved ones. It’s a story about the birth of an artist, about writing itself as an act both healing and political, even dangerous. But it’s also a classic story of repeated history – how a country that never healed from its fissures decades ago is now seeing the same political agitations roiling again. Underground political groups are clamoring for a new Biafran revolution today, and Iduma must determine whether there’s a place for him in that movement. How much of his identity is wrapped up in this history? What does it mean to return home, when home was always more about a person than a place?

Word about the title first emerged in July 2020, when its acquisition was finalized.

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“We are living through a period in which former colonial powers are reckoning with the sins of their past and present,” said Grace Pengelly, William Collins’ assistant commissioning editor. “I Am Still with You is a vital part of this conversation, a vivid account of how Nigerian families were torn apart by the civil war that followed Britain’s formal decolonisation of Nigeria, and whose lives are still marked by the emotional and psychological scars of that period. Emmanuel Iduma is an immensely gifted writer, whose words will captivate those wanting to understand more about the events that have shaped the world we live in today.”

Iduma is the author of two books. The first is the 2012 novel Farad later republished in North America as The Sound of Things To Come. In 2018, he published A Stranger’s Pose, a nonfiction book. He was awarded the inaugural Irving Sandler Award for New Voices in Art Criticism, has been included in Apollo’s 40 under 40 list, and this year was among three African authors awarded Windham-Campbell Prizes.

“For almost all of my adult life, the story of the Civil War has held a fascination for me,” Iduma told The Bookseller. “Its history seemed vague and impenetrable, until I returned to the fact that my uncle remained unaccounted for after the war was over. I Am Still with You, based on my travels into towns where the war was staged, is a journey into the vacuum left by my uncle’s absence. It is an opportunity to consider how the personal is invariably welded to the political, to see how personal grief connects with collective trauma, and to speak from the vantage of those born after the war.”

Emmanuel Esomnofu
Emmanuel Esomnofu is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. He is a culture journalist and has written extensively on Nigerian music and on several moving parts of popular culture. His writing appears online in Native Mag, Okay Africa, Kalahari Review, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. He was published in print in The Muse, the oldest student journal in West Africa. In December 2020, he worked on "Fuji: A Opera" as a copywriter, creating informative and exciting stories from Fuji's rich history.

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