Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 13 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

***I received an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for this opportunity.***

This was a great book. The story was captivating and kept me interested throughout. Can’t wait for more from this author.
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This was a great book - wild, dark, creative, and incredibly unique in a world that is saturated with stories. Ada was a hard character and this book is hard to define, and I won't try because I feel it will spoil it if I do.
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i read with brutal speed. it's a brutal book and i couldn't put it down. i had never seen "mental illness" (the author wouldn't like my saying this) and gender treated like this.

i read a lot of books about psychic pain. i am not a fan of its pathologization and categorization, of boxing it up, of naming it like the name is all we need to know and then everything is clear.

emezi lived with different personalities for years and undoubtedly saw more psychiatrists and psychiatric wards than we could tolerate. the world of western psychiatry is not a gentle and forgiving one. 

and then one day she discovered nigerian theology. she discovered she is a special person, a conduit between humanity and the gods. and this made sense of everything. 

psychiatry is sense-making. theology is sense-making. stories are sense-making. 

there is violence in this book but the violence is morphed by the author from banal, meaningless "self-harm" to theologically poignant "offering to the gods."

you cannot read this if you cannot let go of your understanding of mental pain or mental diversity. it will be abhorrent to you. 

there is also a ton of sexual violence in this book, and childhood trauma. 

emezi is western-educated and she knows what you are thinking. don't tell her what she is. don't tell her why she is the way she is. she has been there. she has chosen her own story.  

and she's trans. she is fine with "she" (and "they") and with being trans. you don't need to wrap your mind around this, you need to believe her. she is the only one with the right to define herself. 

i'm treating the book as autobiographical cuz quite some time has passed since its publication and we now know it is. if you follow emezi on twitter you'll know that she is blazing her own trail. i'll be along every step of the way. my admiration for her is boundless.
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One of my favorite books. I absolutely loved it. I loved all of the characters (they were so 3-dimensional and deep!) and I loved the storyline.
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Freshwater was beautiful and fascinating and one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time. The storytelling structure and POV really blew my mind.
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Freshwater was confusing and frankly mind-boggling at first. The various gods (demons?) inhabiting the child Ada take their time to introduce themselves, to become coherent. This book covers such a great deal of issues- liminality, the divine and human response to it, what it means to be other, what it means to be a part of a whole... not to mention the issues of gender fluidity, mental health, sexuality and violence... it's a lot to take in. I'm not sure at all times, especially at the beginning, that I understood what was happening or the narrative style. But as the book concluded it became a super speedy and much more comprehensible read which I can't say I enjoyed, but which I think was from a valuable and interesting voice. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in return for my unbiased review.
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Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review. Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review. Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review. Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review. Unfortunately I didn't have time to read this deeply enough to review.
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This book was profound at the beginning but i got lost towards the end. Felt like too much was happening all at once. From ogbanje to sexual exploration to gender reassignments...I almost could not keep up. I later found out it was a sort of mini-autobiography and it all seemed to come together at the end. can't make this stuff up!
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If a hybrid existed between Kafka's The Metamorphosis and multiple African folktales, Akwaeke Emezi's novel would be it. In Freshwater, Emezi explores the disjunctive identities within one's self and the struggles with deep mental illness with her character Ada, who grapples with multiples identities living inside her as a result of different deities fighting for control over her body.
Emezi's narrative is moving, heartbreaking and absolutely enticing as Ada grows up and becomes a woman, moving from Nigeria to America and unable to ever fully take control of her own will and her own desires.
Freshwater is an extraordinary debut, placing Emezi on the list of new authors to watch for.
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Very hard book to read, hard to follow. I kept putting it down and going back to it. The storyline was interesting, but I just could not follow it. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the ARC of this book in return for my honest review.
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Loved it! Such interesting subject matter plus an ethereal writing style. Very unique. Definitely haven't read a novel like this before.
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This book was beyond anything I expected. Beautifully written, wonderful concept and very enthralling. Emezi's writing is poetic and poignant, making you reflect on religion, mental illness and womanhood. It's a reading that will stay with me for a long while and Freshwater has definitely become one of my favorite books. I highly recommend it.
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This is a very unique, one-of-a-kind debut novel from Akwaeke Emezi. I have never read anything like this before. 
I could easily tell this book has got a very distinct narration style and a flavor which separates itself from others, but I must say the writing and prose is a bit too abstract and murky for my taste albeit beautiful and strong. 
I totally admit I saw potential in there and assume a lot of readers enjoy this book especially if they are fond of this type of writing, but I'm afraid it didn't work as well for me as I had hoped because in general, I look for a strong, concrete plot in a book. 
That said though, it is undeniably a bewitching novel. It's just that this book might not be for everyone.
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Very unique and beautiful book. This is a book that needs your time and undivided attention. If you are distracted or feeling impatient, you might not be able to get into it.
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Freshwater is a unique debut novel from Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi. It’s gives us magical realism without colonialism, using Nigerian and Igbo perspectives. Primary among these is the idea of obanje, which is an Igbo spirit that floats through mother’s wombs before they give birth. Obanje also become present within those children, as Emezi says “in the liminal spaces.”

Liminal is a new word for me, meaning occupying both sides or on the threshold. In this case the side are spirit and human. Emezi creates her voices, or obanje, around the human girl called Ada. At first, Freshwater is told by a pair of spirits using the plural voice. Then she uses third person to tell more of Ada’s story. How she was prayed into existence by her physician father, Saul. About her siblings, and her mother Saachi.

But the heart of the book is the relationship between Ada and the spirits who inhabit her. There’s also a spirit called Asụghara, who comes into being during a traumatic experience in Ada’s college years. Asụghara Is a rebel, and draws Ada from the virginal girl to the other side of hedonism. So again, Emezi has her main characters straddling a threshold.

There are quite a few interviews with Emezi available online, and I found them helpful as I distilled the novel. Her perspective is nonbinary in terms of both gender and spirit vs. human. She’s also taken the concept of magical realism and infused it with Nigerian and Igbo traditions, moving it to a completely different plane in the process.

My conclusions:
I found Freshwater to be a challenging read. The nature of the story is confusion. Ada and her spirits are caught up in it, and Emezi lets the reader feel their frustration. I started by listening to this on audio, and quickly switched to print so that I could take advantage of the important visual cues at the beginning of chapters.

I love the “own voices” quality of Freshwater. Not only is Akwaeke Emezi Nigerian, she is openly gender nonconforming, and lives in those liminal spaces. According to her interviews, she created Ada and the obanje as a fictionalized representation of her own experiences.

You may or may not feel Freshwater represents multiple personality disorder from the patient’s point of view. Either way, reading this book took me to another place, far from my comfort zone of white, hertero, cisgender, suburban wife and mother.

In terms of writing style and pacing, Freshwater is lyrical but also revels in its sharp edges. It moves forward evenly enough, but the varying characters create fits and starts.

Nevertheless, this is an evocative novel from a writer sure to become even more celebrated.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and Grove Atlantic for the digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.
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Freshwater, the debut autobiographical novel by Akwaeke Emezi, is unusual to say the least. Pulling ideas from Nigerian Igbo ideology, the book explores the theme of self and identity through the eyes of one young woman. The book is challenging to read because of the character's focus on sexual exploration (including some disturbing imagery) and because of the nonlinear storytelling through the three selves that inhabit this one young woman. 

Read my complete review at 

Reviewed for NetGalley
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This book was breathtaking! Freshwater will make readers see themselves and the world in a whole new way.
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I thought this book would be similar to others about otherworldly Nigerian children by Helen Oyeyemi or Ben Okri. Sadly, I had to give up a few paragraphs in because the prose was too flowery for my tastes, But I would recommend to people who enjoy poetic language.
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All the madnesses, each and every blinding one, they can all be traced back to the gates. Those carved monstrosities, those clay and chalk portals, existing everywhere and nowhere and all at once. They open, things are born, they close. The opening is easy, a pushing out, am expansion, an inhalation: the dust of divinity released into the world. It has to be a temporary channel, though, a thing that is sealed afterward, because the gates stink of knowledge, they cannot be left swinging wide like a slack mouth, leaking mindlessly. That would contaminate the human world—bodies are not meant to remember things from the other side. There are rules. But these are gods and they move like heated water, so the rules are softened and stretched. The gods do not care. It is not them, after all, that will pay the cost.

In a powerful and revealing look at a captivating facet of Nigerian culture, Akwaeke Emezi explores the depths of mental illness and spirituality in her debut novel, Freshwater. Ada is born with a unique duality—a physical body and a human psyche that is inhabited by spiritual beings which affect her in myriad ways. As the story progresses we come to learn the Igbo term for this experience, ọgbanje, which alludes to an Earthly presence inhabited by a(n) evil spirit(s) whose survival is only possible though a type of cyclical spiritual rebirth. Narrated by the very beings that inhabit her, Ada’s struggles are slowly revealed through the eyes within her eyes.

We’ve wondered in the years since then what she would have been without us, if she would have still gone mad. What if we had stayed asleep? What if she has remained locked in those years where she belonged to herself? Look at her, whirling around the compound wearing batik shorts and a cotton shirt, her long black hair braided into two arcs fastened with colored bands, her teeth gleaming and one slipper broken. Like a heaving sun. The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.

As Ada grows, we see the toll such a life takes upon her and we watch as this unparalleled torment slowly consumes her. As she battles the newness of life as a Nigerian in America, along with the basic hurdles of life as a college student, we are soon to discover the boundless ability of her mind to both shelter and distress her self.

He pulled on a pair of shorts as she sat in the cheap Wal-Mart sheets, knowledge trickling like warm urine into her head, traveling down to her chilled hands. The words swirled in nausea around her. Birth control pills, because this boy, the boy with the doe eyes and the sad skin, had released clouds into her. But she couldn’t remember any of it and she couldn’t remember saying yes because she couldn’t remember being asked.

Following this trauma, a new being is released within Ada, seemingly to protect her from future suffering. What follows is a desperate spiraling into madness that threatens the existence of our protagonist, and as as result our narrators, shedding light on the very nature of ọgbanje and the more common battles waged inside the tormented mind.

Drawn from parts of their own personal life, Akwaeke Emezi has penned a devastating and engrossing debut that challenges the status quo and begs another look at identity and the resilience of the human mind.

I don’t even have the mouth to tell you this story. I’m so tired most of the time. Besides, whatever they will say will be the truest version of it, since they are the truest version of me. It’s a strange thing to say, I know, considering that they made me mad. But I am not entirely opposed to madness, not what it comes with this kind of clarity. The world in my head had been far more real than the one outside—maybe that’s the exact definition of madness, come to think of it. It’s all a secret I’ve had to keep, but no longer, not since you’re reading this. And it should all make sense; I didn’t want to be alone, so I chose them. In many ways, you see, I am not even real.
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This is a fabulous debut from a very promising writer.  The main character Ada is ’haunted’ by jher divided self and is both supported and traumatised by her internal demons/subconcious.  Mainly set in Nigeria and The USA, Akwaeke Emezi has written a mature piece of fiction which challenges and rewards the reader.
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