You have been living under a rock if you haven’t heard about Freshwater. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi is compelling, dark, rich and mesmerizing. The book follows Ada, a young girl growing up in Nigeria, as she is both plagued and protected by a host of spirits that cohabitate her body and share her thoughts. Through beautiful and haunting prose, and the different voices residing in Ada, we get a glimpse into her mind. Emezi shows how the various aspects of our personality are often in conflict, and how that conflict can be inescapable. (I still can’t believe how relatable this book was)
Ada is an Ogbanje, a spiritual being with access to ‘the other side’, which means the ‘other side’ has access to her as well. After a childhood full of pain, suffering, and generally being misunderstood, Ada’s family sends her off to Virginia to continue her education. While in the States, the gods flood into her and begin to declare themselves in her life more forcefully, taking over her body and getting it in all kinds of trouble.
I am acutely aware that the Ogbanje has gotten a bad reputation in this part of the world but hear me out. While reading this book, it dawned on me that the danger of the ‘single story’ is detrimental to our understanding of the world, and Freshwater opens you to a whole new world if you give it a chance. You know that Pixar movie, Inside Out, where the girl has all the people in her head? Mad, sad and happy or something. And it’s amusing but profound? Freshwater is sort of like that. Except it’s for adults and some of the people in the girl’s head are slightly spiteful. Also, these are actually gods, born and trapped in human flesh.
I really don’t want to give away too much of the story because I want you to experience this without spoilers. What stayed with me the most was Emezi’s style of writing; it’s innovative and fresh. As the story progresses, you’ll rediscover Eastern Nigerian culture and yourself. Fam, you WILL struggle with a lot of things in this book, but at the end, you’ll be grateful because this was the most amazing bookish rollercoaster ride I’ve been on in a looonnnggg time.
The tone of the first section floats gently like the shadows that are the twin gods who narrate it. The next part, where we’re flung into the arms and voice of Asụghara, which is more solid, reflecting this new god’s fury and disdain for all things human. The merging of reality with unreality, combined with gorgeous writing, reminded me of reading Anna Spargo-Ryan’s brilliant first novel, The Paper House, a story of a woman who descends into madness after the stillbirth of her first child. I was impressed by the imagery and the complete disregard for reality or conventions.
When I talk about this book, a lot of people feel that I’m in love with Akwaeke Emezi so I might not be objective. But here’s the thing; I have been a reader since my eyes could pick out words and I consciously studied English Literature, so I DO KNOW what I’m talking about. Although I’m in love with Akwaeke Emezi, I recognize literary genius when I see it. And Freshwater is GOLD! I highly recommend this book– I devoured it as quickly as I could and was left feeling quite stunned, but thoroughly satisfied when it ended.
Reviewed by: Amyn Bawa-Allah. She is a Content Writer, Personal Book Shopper and Orgasm Activist. When she is not reading and writing, she’s probably drinking wine and re-arranging books on her bookshelf. For honest book reviews or recommendations, follow her on Instagram.