Freshwater

by Akwaeke Emezi

Paper Book, 2018

Publication

New York : Grove Press, 2018.

Description

An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born "with one foot on the other side." Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities. Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves, now protective, now hedonistic, move into control, Ada's life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction. Narrated from the perspective of the various selves within Ada, and based in the author's realities, Freshwater explores the metaphysics of identity and mental health, plunging the reader into the mystery of being and self. Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.… (more)

Media reviews

This unconventional novel tells the story of Ada, a baby born of mixed parentage who arrives in the world accompanied by a chaos of spirits, awakened at her birth when the gates between the spirit world and the world of the flesh are left open. ‘The first madness was that we were born,’ they say, ‘that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.’ By this, the spirits mean that rather than becoming a unitary whole with their host, they retain their own interests and preoccupations, as well as the wrenching awareness that they are dislocated from the realm of the gods: ‘We were sent through carelessly, with a net of knowledge snarled around our ankles, not enough to tell us anything, just enough to trip us up.’

User reviews

LibraryThing member miss.mesmerized
Their prayers have been heard and the god Ala sent them a baby girl: Ada, named in honour of the generous goddess. Yet, it comes with a plus, Ada is not alone, she has got some characters living in her mind, still asleep, but eager to wake up and take over the body given to them. The first two to arrive and take care of Ada and her siblings in their Nigerian village. Later, in America, when another of the voices awakes and takes over control over Ada‘s body, things turn out differently. For the world outside, it is hidden what is going on inside Ada‘s head, once she tries to tell a therapist, however, the voices that possess her are stronger and find a way out of this dangerous situation.
Akwaeke Emezi‘s novel „Freshwater“ was all but easy to read for me. First of all, I had some difficulty understanding who is telling the story, it took me some time to figure out that the voices in Ada‘s head are the narrators. So, we are mostly inside her mind, but sometimes we get what happens outside, too.
You cannot really say that Ada is mad even though she hears voices and follows their command. It was especially when she hurt herself to calm down the first two voices, Smoke and Shadow, that was hard to endure. The third who made her act promiscuously wasn‘t much better. They are evil, after all, misusing an innocent human to fulfil their wishes and greed. I am not sure if it works like this with people hearing voices, even if it is somewhat different, this seems to be horrible. On the other hand, Ada obviously experienced some very bad incidents and the voices were somehow able to split those memories from her normal memory thus making her forget these experiences. Maybe this is the cause why the voices could develop after all.
It is always hard to like a novel if you detest the protagonist or narrator. Thus, „Freshwater“ is not a novel I could fall for easily. Still, I consider the topic highly interesting and, ultimately, the author found a convincing way of making the voices heard for us.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
“The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.”
I learned about Freshwater after someone (I don't remember who) quoted a short passage on twitter. Just a single sentence or two — too short to know what the story was about, but beautiful enough to make me long to read the book. It was not yet published at the time, so I watched and waited and clicked the preorder link as soon as it appeared, then I waited some more for this beautiful book to be printed and shipped to me.

It was every bit worth the wait, because this debut novel is gorgeous.
“There was a time before we had a body, when it was still building itself cell by cell inside the thin woman, meticulously producing organs, making systems.”
Born in Nigeria, Ada begins life with a fractured self, burdened with the weight of god creatures that have been bound into her flesh. Living "with one foot on the other side" she is a troubled and volatile child who grows into a troubled and volatile adult, with a tendency toward outbursts and self harm. As she grows and moves to America, where she experiences a traumatic event, new selves crystalize within her, each providing their own protections and hungers.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of these god creatures (or spirit beings), which have their own needs and desires beyond that of Ada herself. Their story and her story blends together, as they have been blended together in spirit and flesh. It's a fantastic rendering of having a fractured self, the confusing mix of desires and emotions that make up a person, the ways we work to protect and harm ourselves.
“I had arrived, flesh from flesh, true blood from true blood. I was the wildness under the skin, the skin into a weapon, the weapon over the flesh.”
The writing style in this book is lush and vibrant, evoking the energy and power of spirit realms represented in the voices of the gods the speak this story. It's gorgeous on every page, bringing into existence a story that is unsettling, surprising, and powerful. This is a novel I will return to again and again.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I had a really tough time getting into this book initially. There's no doubt that the voice of the narrative is interesting, but that doesn't mean it is not confusing. Trust me, it is. Told by the voices in Ada's head—are they personalities indicative of a mental illness or spiritual beings that battle for her attention—Freshwater does not stop to answer questions. This commitment to voice is good for the end result, because it really adds credibility to the narrative, but it does make for a somewhat difficult beginning.

In her debut novel, Akwaeke Emezi crafts a journey that is devastating and empowering. There is much in this story that can break a heart or turn a reader in disgust. Those avoiding difficult subjects in their reads should skip this one. Ultimately, however, Freshwater is a very spiritual tale, a battle for one soul. Despite the many dark moments, it becomes a display of strength and fulfillment. Through lyrical prose and the unrelenting voices, Freshwater explores what it is to be between two worlds—living and dead, Africa and America, Allah and Yeshua, peace and rage.
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LibraryThing member pdever
Excellent and vibrantly fresh. Its a spiritual story of existence as many in between--a girl, gods and spirits. Madness. And then you get a sense for the spiritual journey that allows it to work, and finally for the depth and trauma that also makes it a psychological story.
LibraryThing member strandbooks
I kept hearing about this debut novel Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. It’s relatively short but took me a whole month to get through as I kept putting it down and picking up other books.
It follows a girl Ada who is born in Nigeria with what is called ogbanje — gods from another world trapped in her mind. It sounds like magical realism, but it’s more of a spiritual way of explaining schizophrenia. Over a tumultuous childhood she moved to the US for college where the gods/voices multiply and become stronger. Many of the chapters are told in the voices of the gods. They all live in a marble room in her head.
My biggest issue with the book was the beginning and middle were very clearly set in reality. We learned about Ada’s parents, their divorce, her college experience meeting her roommate and then all those details fall away. She is having affairs all over the world, saving thousands of dollars for a plastic surgery, checking herself into a hospital for help and checking herself out, but there’s no mention of a job that pays for all these things or even where/how she lives. I understand that these feel irrelevant as she’s battling her gods, but I wasn’t able to understand her struggles without the context of her day-to-day life that was so detailed in the beginning.
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Pages

229

ISBN

9780802127358
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