Freshwater

Akwaeke Emezi
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.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2019-04-29

Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Transgender Fiction (2019), Wellcome Book Prize Nominee for Longlist (2019), Women's Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2019), Aspen Words Literary Prize Nominee for Longlist (2019), Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize for Fiction & Poetry Longlist Nominee (2018)

Akwaeke Emezi is a new, wonderfully fresh, voice to add to the many memoirs of living with difference, in this case possibly neurodivergence. Most go in rote portrayal through X happened, Y is the dysfunctional way we dealt with it, Z is the (usually much healthier) way we learned to cope and the place we landed by the writing of the memoir/book. 

Instead Emezi's gives protagonist Ada and her self-states their own music and more importantly, own heritage, in telling a magical, spiritual, semi-autobiographical story of how the many came to be and worked their way through life to become the person they are now. They are distinctly Nigerian, and all of that Western psychobabble is inadequate for anyone who hasn't sprung forth directly from a textbook - even for a person who grew up in the West. Imagine how absurd it is to anyone whose background is infused with spiritual aspects, beliefs and legends the West does not allow for.

An ogbanje is an Igbo spirit born into a human body, and this is how Emezi sees her young protagonist's system of being. There is a body and the body plays host to a number of gods and people, each running the whole system from time to time, weaving in and out to deal with the situation. When you think about it, we all have parts of ourselves that take over for certain situations. You at work are not the same you that crawls into bed with a partner at night or the same you who studied hard in university or the same you who did something you may not be so proud of. Everyone's identity works on a sort of continuum.

What Emezi has done so specially is tell her protagonist's story including all of the possibilities. Yes traumatic things happened, but perhaps she was born primed to be more than just one. Perhaps the ogbanje were there, just waiting for a chance to assert themselves. Others are born along the way. We do follow the general arc of birth to present, but the path is gorgeously written, spiritual and magical.

I could either quote the whole book or tell you what happens at every step, but I won't. I will tell you that like many lives, it is not an easy one. They are different; Ada's life has more scary places than others. Parts of her react dysfunctionally, she goes "mad." Hard things happen, but they take on significance for the unique way the many who live within the body called Ada cope with each new horror, wonder or challenge. 

The prose is lyrical and beautiful even when the events described are not. While it's fantastical, it's also very truthful. Perhaps this much truth can only be safely told by spirits, gods and a little bit of magic. The end is uplifting. If we are going to read memoirs and stories of difference - be they about race, states of being, health, illness, whatever, let this be one you read.

Item Posts
@litlawstudent
@litlawstudent completed #freshwater... on 2019-07-12
@kamilah
@kamilah completed #freshwater... on 2019-04-25
@kamilah
@kamilah began #freshwater... on 2019-04-21