#SaturdaySpecial: Excerpts from Akwaeke Emezi’s PET

Farafinabooks, partnering with YNaija, is back again with an excerpt from one of their new releases, this time with a highly anticipated novel by the critically acclaimed author, Akwaeke Emezi. Emezi’s second novel, the New York Times called PET a “beautiful, genre-expanding debut. . . . a nesting doll of creative possibilities.”

Here’s the link to buy it if the New York Times review has you sold. However, if you need a bit more than that, here’s an excerpt for you to enjoy.

The librarian was a tall, dark-skinned man who whizzed around the marble floors in his wheelchair. His name was Ube, and Jam had known him since she was a toddler pawing through picture books. She loved being in the library, the almost sacred silence you could find there, the way it felt like another home.

Ube smiled at her when she walked in, and Jam took an index card from his counter, writing her question about angels down on it. She slid it over to Ube, and he grunted as he read it, nodding his head, then he wrote some reference numbers underneath her question and slid the card back to her. They didn’t need to talk, which was perfect.

It took her fifteen minutes to find the old pictures, printed on thin, flaky paper and nestled between heavy book covers. Even though Ube hadn’t said she should, Jam considered pulling on the white gloves nestled in the reading desk drawers to use in looking through the books, they seemed that old. But they weren’t in the protected section, so she figured it was fine to run her bare fingers over the smooth and fragile paper.

The room she was in was quiet, with large windows vaulting up the walls and domed skylights pouring in late-afternoon sun. Jam sat for a few minutes with her fingers on the images, staring down, turning a page, and staring at the next one. They were strong and confusing pictures. Eventually she closed and stacked the books, then lugged them to the checkout counter.

Ube raised a thick black eyebrow at her. “All of these?” he asked. His voice sounded unreal, deep and velvet, something that should live only in a radio because it didn’t make sense outside in normal air.

Jam nodded.

“You gotta be careful with them, you know? They’re mad old.”

She nodded again, and Ube looked at her for a moment, then smiled, shaking his head.

“You right, you a careful girl. Always seen it.” He scanned the books as he spoke. “You treat the books gentle, like they flowers or something.”

She blushed.

“Don’t be shy about it, now. Books are important.” He stamped them for her. “You need a bag, baby?”

Jam shook her head no.

“All right, now. Two weeks, remember?”

She hefted the books onto her hip, nodded, and left. They were a weight straining against her arm until she got home, and she took them straight upstairs to her mother’s studio. Jam’s mother had been born when there were monsters, and Jam’s grandmother had come from the islands, a woman entirely too gentle for that time.

It had hurt her too much to be alive then, hurt even more to give birth to Jam’s mother, whose existence was the result of a monster’s monstering. This grandmother had died soon after the birth, but not before naming Jam’s mother Bitter. No one had argued with the dying woman.

Bitter knew her name was heavy, but she hadn’t minded, because it was honest. That was something she’d taught Jam—that a lot of things were manageable as long as they were honest. You could see things clearly if they were honest; you could decide what to do next, because you knew exactly what you were dealing with.

She never lied to Jam, always told her the truth, even if sometimes she couldn’t make it as gentle as she would’ve wanted, for her daughter’s sake. But Jam trusted her mother for those brutal truths, and that’s why home was the first place she brought the books with the angels in them.

Her mother was painting when Jam came in, so the studio was full of loud music, old-school grime this time, the energy thumping against the light and Stormzy’s voice whipping around Bitter’s flying braids. Jam put the books down on a table that wasn’t too crowded and leaned her elbows on them, watching her mother’s shoulder blades jerk and convulse as she moved on her hands and knees, a massive canvas stretched beneath her.

Bitter was clutching a brush between her fingers, her joints locked in angles that looked painful, her eyes partially closed and her mouth slightly open. She always painted like this, half dancing in something of a trance, and she was always exhausted afterward. Jam didn’t want to interrupt her.

Jam’s father, Aloe, was the one who was good at getting through to his wife when she was working. It was something about his vibe, Jam thought, something about how attuned they were to each other.

All Aloe had to do was be close enough to Bitter. He’d crouch a few feet away from the edge of her canvas and just wait, breathing as he always did, steady and calm. Jam had watched it many times—the way her mother’s hands would slow down, the brushstrokes growing softer, shorter, and eventually how Bitter would stop moving altogether, her shoulders settling like a bird landing and folding in its wings. Her long neck would curve back, raising her face, and she’d look straight at Aloe, and her smile would be like a whole new day starting.

__________________________

A 2018 National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree, cwas born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria. Their short story Who Is Like God won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, and their writing has been published by T Magazine, Dazed Magazine, The Cut, Buzzfeed, Granta Online, Vogue.com, and Commonwealth Writers, among others. Pet was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and a Lambda Literary Award, as well as an Indie Next selection.

You can pre-order PET by following this link.

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