Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Date Read: December 10th 2017

Published: February 2018

Publisher: Grove Press

Pages: 240

 

 

 

The Blurb

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, heart-wrenching, 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. 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 dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the 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.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Freshwater by Igbo and Tamil writer – Akwaeke Emezi, has to be the most anticipated debut of 2018. I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) early December and devoured the book the weekend I received it. Even though Freshwater is highly anticipated worldwide, I’m curious and quite nervous to see how Nigerians and other African readers will take this novel.

If I had known this book was as evil, dark and sinful as it was, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to read it. But now that I’ve marinated the story in my mind for a while, I can confidently declare that Freshwater is SO MUCH MORE than it’s insane level of lust and blasphemy. Freshwater is a dark, layered tale based in and out of the spiritual realm, which focuses on how past traumas deeply affect one’s well-being and mental health.

Ada (she/they) – the main character, has many selves. The selves within Ada are different gods or spirits who are birthed during different phases and traumas of her/their life. These gods are almost like her/their alter egos and they sustain her/their human body through protective and destructive means. Multiple Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, suicide, panic attacks, rape (this was VERY difficult to read), lust, violence, sex (A LOT OF IT; it was unbelievable), self-injury, love, religion, strained family relations, sisterhood, immigration, homosexuality and gender fluidity are all explored in this complex debut.

In the beginning, reading Freshwater was frustrating. The story didn’t seem to make sense to me because I didn’t know who was talking! There are many voices in this book and I wasn’t sure whether Ada, Asughara, Saint Vincent, brothersisters or Ala was speaking (these are all the names of the gods we encounter in the story). There’s a certain rhythm to this debut which will only make sense if the reader has an open mind and patience. Some parts of this book still don’t make sense to me and I feel some characters/gods didn’t need to be introduced at all. But all in all, my weekend was well spent indulging in this extraordinary tale, even though it felt sinful at times. I was very fond of Emezi’s writing style which is accessible, calculated and not overly embellished.

For me, the most fascinating thing about Freshwater is the juxtaposition between God of Christianity versus the gods of the dark world. Ada’s relationship with the two associations speak volumes on our (Africans/Black folks) relationship with religion and how it guides and/or controls our lives, whether it feels real or not… it’s hard to explain! I absolutely loved that Emezi explores the difficulties of loving and accepting oneself in this novel, through Ada’s character. As humans, we all have other selves within us – in the form of our blended temperaments, alter egos and moods; these are all explored in a scary, extreme way.

Freshwater is definitely not for everyone (for example: hardcore Christians who can’t appreciate the art of the imagination that God blessed writers with), especially with how difficult it was to read. The book is laden with triggering incidents and the storyline has a non-linear trajectory, which may be confusing to some readers. It takes work to understand this type of novel, whose genre isn’t even clearcut- I’d say Freshwater is a mix of sci-fi, mythicism, thriller and memoir, as parts of Emezi’s real life are part of the story. I don’t think there’s a book out there like this. Akwaeke Emezi is a beast – no pun intended.

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Special thanks to Grove Press for the ARC.

[Side note: My rough thoughts on this book were initially posted on my Goodreads, where Akwaeke Emezi spotted it and gave me a shout out on Twitter + Instagram + in their newsletter. It was a pleasant surprise! 🙂 ]

 

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Freshwater on Amazon

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2018 NEW RELEASES TO ANTICIPATE!

Happy New Year, everyone!

What books are you excited to read this year? Below are 56 new African, African-American and Caribbean books that look very promising. This is just a snippet of the books 2018 has to offer!

Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.

(this post contains Amazon affiliate links)

MORE books to look out for in 2018:

Image via Nylon

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves

Yes! Glory Edim, aka – Well-Read Black Girl, is working on an anthology that will feature black women writers like – Zinzi Clemons, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Marita Golden, and Tayari Jones as they highlight the first time they saw themselves represented in literature. To be published by Random House.

 


Image via Simon & Schuster

I first encountered Bahamian writer – Janice Lynn Mather’s writing in the 2014 anthology, Pepperpot: Best New Stories From The Caribbean. Her short story- ‘Mango Summer’ was such a poetic, gentle and innocent tale on sisterhood and loneliness; with the abundance of mangoes being a humorous distraction to the heartfelt tale.

I loved her writing in ‘Mango Summer’ and eagerly look forward to this debut! To be published by Simon & Schuster, June 2018.

 


Image via Reader’s Digest 

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore

Wayétu Moore is a writer of Liberian heritage and is the founder of One Moore Book, which is a children’s book publishing company that focuses on providing culturally sensitive and educational stories for children living in regions with low literacy rates and underrepresented cultures. Her debut – She Would Be King, reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three characters who share an uncommon bond. I can’t wait for the book cover to be revealed soon!! To be published by Graywolf Press, September 2018.

 


Image via Anissa Photography 

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

If you loved The Hate You Give, you’ll probably love Angie Thomas’ second novel – On The Come Up! I hope the book cover is revealed soon. To be published by Balzer + Bray, May 2018.

 


Image via Ibi Zoboi

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Haitian writer – Ibi Zoboi’s second novel, Pride is a love story inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set in Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY). To be published by Balzer + Bray, September 2018.

 

What new releases are you excited about? Please do share!