Book Title: I’m telling the Truth but I’m Lying
Year of Publication: 2019
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Genre: Personal Memoirs
Author: Bassey Ikpi
Reviewer: Uduak Akpan
Bassey Ikpi’s intimate memoir, I’m telling the Truth but I’m Lying, is rendered in pieces of brutally honest and compelling essays exploring mental illness.
Bassey ushers you into her chaotic, colourful life with the book’s first essay, titled, ‘This Essay is to Prove to You That I Had a Childhood,’ and acquaints you with her early childhood in Ugep before joining her parents in America. With her reconstructed memories, some of which she tries and fails to remember accurately, she glues together an intricate account of juggling life, internal conflict, shame, family, and society while battling what would later be diagnosed as Bipolar II disorder. The succeeding essays follow her life in America – in college, battling depression, her relationship with family and friends, struggles while traveling and performing with HBO’s Russell Simons Def Poetry Jam and coming into her own.
In each essay, Bassey is the proverbial lamb led to the slaughter; only, she does the leading, and with such tenacity, that tigress would be a more befitting description. In this slaughterhouse, she brazenly eviscerates herself, her conquests, her disease, fights, and falls, making her readers, cheer, hold their breaths, pray for, and ‘Search for Magic’ with her.
The essays break your heart, but strangely, manage to keep a smile on your lips, thanks to the writer’s adept storytelling. There are two likely scenarios when you read Bassey’s work: the first is that you could feel them personally, in which case, you would feel a great sense of joy that mental illness is receiving the spotlight it deserves, without the shame that has long shrouded discussions surrounding it. The second is that you may not relate to them personally, then, you should give thanks for being sheltered from the harsh realities of living with a mental illness. Whichever be your truth, one thing is sure: Bassey has humanized mental illness and has given every of her reader, a material to run with, in supporting people living with mental illnesses and in fighting stigmatization.
The essays are fast-paced with dizzying effects, especially when describing hypomanic episodes. Bassey is something of an artist, with her easy and vivid descriptions that leave the smell of psych wards, taste of red bull and feel of Chicago on your tongue. Her words draw you in and wreck you in ways that you love, but also wish to recover from. The book’s wow factor is how it delivers a weighted theme with an air of ease.
Its mysterious ending is one of its endearing features - it should bring release from the tension that has built up in its preceding two hundred and something pages, but it doesn’t. It grips you still. There are no heroes, no saviours; only hope and bated breath. If Bassey’s debut book is not magic, I don’t know what is.