Freshwater is Akwaeke Emezi‘s debut novel.
Finished on: 17.6.2020
Content Note: rape
When Ada is born, the door to the spirit world doesn’t close properly and so Ada is not alone in her body; she is ogbanje. She grows up in Nigeria, but moves to the USA to attend college. Things are not easy for her and as she encounters traumatizing events, the different parts of herself become more pronounced and develop personalities of their own to cope with everything.
Freshwater is a fascinating, difficult book. Albeit very readable, you need to put in some work – but if you do, you will be rewarded with a complex character or characters in an interesting setting.
You can read Freshwater in two ways: you can read it as a fantasy novel where Ada actually shares her body with spirits who protect her, or you can read it as a realistic novel about a protagonist with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Both interpretations are possible and valid – the book gives neither the advantage.
Mirroring the many selves within Ada, the narrative is rather fractured and things that would be great revelations in other novels only get a short mention here at times (oh, Ada is non-binary and queer, that’s not something we need to dwell on, is it?).This can be irritating because it’s absolutely not what we expect and it sometimes feels like we’re missing chunks of Ada’s life. But then again, I imagine that it feels the same way for Ada who often isn’t the one in charge of her life and misses some of it herself.
It makes Freshwater a book that needs to settle a little bit. Or at least I needed to think about it (and was also able to discuss it with other people who had read it, that always helps). And the book is definitely dark – a lot of bad things happen to Ada and her selves (though it is not hopeless). But in the end, I really loved the unusual protagonist(s) we get here and to get a glimpse of their world.