Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Kachifo Farafina
Release Date: 2018
Ada has always been unusual. As an infant in southern Nigeria, she is a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but something must have gone awry, as the young Ada becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief. But Ada turns out to be more than just volatile.
Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves. When Ada travels to America for college, a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these alters—now protective, now hedonistic—move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dangerous direction.
Written with stylistic brilliance and based in the author’s realities, this raw and extraordinary debut explores the metaphysics of identity and being, plunging the reader into the mysteries of self.
Unsettling, heart-wrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.
I’ll like to say it’s been a few weeks since I read this book, so some of the details may be a little hazy. I did make some notes when I finished it which I’ll share as part of this review.
Freshwater tells the story of Ada, an Ogbanje – a mischievous spirit/child who comes to the world to torment its parents with multiple child deaths. Ada, however, doesn’t die as a child like the regular ogbanje but goes on to live a life ruled by the whims and pleasures of the legion of spirits within her.
This novel reads like a memoir in the 3rd person, which is what it is apparently. I’ll suggest you find out more about the author, Akwaeke Emezi. In Freshwater, she takes us through Ada’s childhood, education, and relationships. Mostly her relationships, from sexual abuse at the hands of her boyfriend to physical and emotional abuse at the hands of one of her selves, Asughara.
Asughara is the more dominant spirit in this book. She’s bold, fearless, vicious even at the expense of Ada who more often than nought recoils into herself and hands the wheels over to Asughara. This is not good for anyone to be honest and by the time Ada finally reconciles with all of themselves, Asughara has almost destroyed her.
First notes on Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
First of all, I’ll say that this book was/is a major mindfuck. Now, for somebody like me who is a Christian, I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, I believe in the devil even. However, I still find it hard to wrap my head around Ogbanje, witches and all those kind of things.
Maybe I’m in denial though, but I find it really tough to believe in what I just read. Whether I believe in it or not though, the fact is this book was beautifully written. I finished it, minus the time I took to sleep, in less than 12 hours and you have to consider the fact that I was reading it in traffic. I started reading it at night and by afternoon the next day, I was done. It’s really engaging, easy to read, beautiful prose all through.
Even though, at some point, I was kinda like “WTF is this?”. Truth is, Freshwater is not so shocking. For somebody who believes people can have dual personalities and other stuff like that, I totally get it. It’s when you’re bringing it into the spiritual realm and somebody is a god and you have other selves in you that I’m like, hmmm… okay… maybe…
It’s not a bad read if you’re not so sensitive to spiritual stuff. I am the kind of person that was able to enjoy Lucifer (TV) without getting emotional about it. Some people can’t do that -compartmentalising my own beliefs from things I read or watch. I consider this to be fiction so it doesn’t affect anything I believe in the real world.
Would I recommend it? Yes but take the warning above.