Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 13 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

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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I was surprised to read this novel from beginning to end. I think this is just a simple story, Ada was an ordinary baby born in Southern Nigeria and moved to America for college. But it was not as simple as I thought. Everyone thinks if Ada might be a curse but her parents managed to turn her story into a very good life.

I met Ada story that lived in different voices and characters. Since then I’m sure that this debut is indeed amazing. This is not an ordinary story with ordinary characters. Every narrative made for Ada drew my mind to continue exploring the story to the end. Then over and over again and uncover information I had not previously thought about. Each sentence is thoroughly assembled and keeps the reader on hold.

I strongly agree that this story is not just about Ada. Although at a certain moment it is about Ada. Then I was surprised when the other personality pushed Ada to cut off her body parts. Then the story develops when Ada reaches the United States. Herself is not the real Ada because another spirit has been living in its body.

Then the event of sexual abuse on Virginia campus made Ada invisible. She is not There and I can not find her. Asughara lives in Ada and has encouraged her to curl up, cut her hair and destroy the lives of other people’s romance. It’s a very broken character and makes me feel emotional.

Not until there, because I was suddenly introduced to Saint Vincent. Another person with a very gentle character and contrary to Asughara. Of course, there is a struggle for power in mind There is a very different character. Some of the personalities in Ada’s body are not just a story. There has a character as a protagonist from birth, then continues into adulthood. All being unfair and I want to help her. But this is not a common mental illness. This story about mental disorders that existed from birth and participate grow like the physical sufferers. It’s about mental illness that will ruin life from beginning to end, especially when it does not get help.

This novel made me learn a lot about mental disorders. No other writer can combine the interesting and binding narrative elements and prose stories like Akwaeke Emezi. Everything in this story makes me ask a lot and keep searching for other knowledge.

I highly recommend this novel. Ada’s story really makes us think open. Suicide, depression, rude attitude and some other things are just images of Ada but it does exist in real life. The novel really makes the view different in mental disorder. Thanks to NetGalley. FreshwaterbyAkwaekeEmezi#NetGalley
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So this book... hm. I'm still not really sure how to explain it. It's a bit magical realism, a bit mythological, a bit of an "issues" contemporary on gender, rape, sexual assault, suicide attempts, mental illness and just so much. (There are obviously trigger warnings for these topics.)

We follow one girl named Ada who was born full of gods? the children of gods? it's hard to tell. But they remember what they are, so they cause a lot of problems for her. As she grows up, some of them become more distinct based on her experiences. Each chapter is marked by who is speaking, which definitely helps although I felt like the voices of the characters were distinct. 

This book is short, which is good because I think if it were any longer it would get just too confusing. As it was, I put this book down and was a bit like "what did I just read??" I think I enjoyed it? It was so hard to rate and classify this book because it's been about a month and I'm still not sure what this was about. But obviously I read to the end, so I did like it enough to continue.

I definitely wouldn't recommend this book to everyone, but it opened me up to another culture and to another religious idea while still covering hard topics. I felt like it handled all of them pretty well. If any pieces of the synopsis interests you, I definitely recommend you picking it up.
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How to review this, how to review this............

The first 50 pages or so of this book were really tough for me. I felt like I was physically fighting the book, trying to wrestle it into submission. After the initial struggle, I fell into a somewhat uneasy rhythm with the story but I never quite managed to embrace it. I can appreciate it somewhat remotely as a very original and inspired work of art, but it stirs very little depth of feeling or emotion in me. 

This seems to be an allegorical narrative about mental illness, sexual identity and other ways in which a person might feel "other." The story is narrated by various selves contained within Ada, who apparently suffers from multiple personality disorder. The selves express themselves as gods called ogbanje. They contend with each other inside Ada's mind, with other gods outside of Ada that they refer to as "brothersisters," and with Ada herself. It's a funky scene, starting with Ada's birth in Nigeria to her adulthood in the US.

The writing is very dense and lofty - well written and imaginative for sure, but tedious at the same time. It just all felt too much, too much, too much.

I'd rate this as a 3.5, but am rounding down because, for me, it was more chore than pleasure. Don't let my lukewarm review stop you from reading this book; it has gotten stellar reviews from my most trusted Goodreads friends. Sometimes books just don't speak to you, no matter how skillful the execution and the talents of the writer.

Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Press for an ARC of this novel. My review, however, is based on the hardcover version.
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"She was a question wrapped up in a breath.  How do you survive when they place a god inside your body."

Freshwater is a novel unlike anything I have ever read which is something that rarely happens in my reading life.  It took me a long time to really sink into this story due to the fact that there is a lot of dense perspective to get through but I am incredibly glad that I stuck with it because the complexities blended beautifully into a unique perspective of a woman (Ada) with dissociative identity disorder which is narrated by the different personalities themselves.  

The slightly disjointed feel to the story would traditionally be a pain point in my reading process but, in this case, it perfectly reflected the fracture of Ada's soul into these unique personalities and it worked seamlessly into the narrative.  

This book will take you deep into many trigger worthy issues like sexual assault and suicide so please keep these things in mind before you crack the spine on this novel.  That said, when you let yourself into The Ada's world, you will be afraid that you will not get back out.

Thank you goes out to Grove Press, Akwaeke Emezi and Netgalley for and advance copy of Freshwater in exchange for an honest review.
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Freshwater is quite a book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up, but it is unlike any other book I have ever read.
The story is told mostly from the point of view of the gods in Ada’s head, the ones that she was born with but the gate did not close behind them, leaving Ada with a foot in both worlds. It was fascinating reading Ada’s story from this perspective and this really is an extraordinary way to consider mental illness and how people protect themselves mentally from traumas in their lives. It made Ada an even more powerful character.
The writing in Freshwater is beautiful and lovely to read, sometimes harsh, sometimes poetic. Emezi has a way of painting a picture with just a few words and often made me stop to savour her sentences and word choices.
I can see how this might not be the book for everyone, but I found it powerful and compelling.
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This novel is full of gorgeous prose and has a profound message of healing. Freshwater is a beautiful read.

Thank you to Akwaeke Emezi.
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Magical realism is a tough genre for me because sometimes my right brain refuses to play along. With Freshwater, it struggled at times because Ada, the person, is not the narrator. Her other "beings/hosts" narrate, which creates an emotional distance and there were times I struggled to relate to the difficulties and traumas Ada faced. On the flip side, I would have likely been an absolute mess if I had to endure everything Ada did. Still, I recommend this book, due to its beautiful writing and some exquisite passages. I may not have felt as connected to Ada as I would have liked, but Emezi is still a powerful writer and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
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This is a startlingly raw and dark novel about spirituality, abuse, trauma and mental illness.  In this fresh perspective, debut novelist Akwaeke Emezi embeds ogbanje, or nonhuman entities, within Ada, a girl born to parents who had prayed to the God Ala for a daughter.  Ala, a serpentine God, the judge and mother who holds the underworld in her belly grants the parents their wish.   Thus, Ada (name meaning the egg of a python) is born to suffer the fate of having spirits reside inside of her.  For a time, Ada tries to present a unified front wherein she and the spirits within her are one.  However, with abuse and trauma, she becomes more fractured and these spirits within her exert their influence in different ways.

Ada appeases the spirits within her from an early age by cutting.  After a sexual assault in college she gives herself over to Asughara often and especially when she is to be intimate with anyone.  Asughara is trying to protect the Ada from these incidents, but also derives pleasure from the experience, leading to sexual compulsion.  Ada finds it hard to be herself even in a loving marriage.  She struggles with self mutilation, suicidality, gender dysphoria and fractured sense of identity.

The life of Ada is based loosely on the author’s own life.  Akwaeke Emezi is Igbo and was born in Nigeria.  Her sister, like Ada’s, was in a terrible accident.  Akwaeke was molested as a young girl.  She self describes herself as gender dysphoric and has had surgeries to remove her breasts and her reproductive organs.  She didn’t want her breasts removed to become male, but to be able to wear dresses and switch between genders more easily.  The author’s name has a direct connection to an Igbo deity, like Ada’s.  She has attempted suicide.

I love that this novel brings attention to issues of gender violence, self mutilation, suicidality, mental illness, fractured identity, and gender dysphoria.  It is written in such a unique way that incorporates spirituality and the author’s Igbo culture.  The writing is excellent.  My only complaint is the dizzying and disorienting effect of reading narrations of the various different identities, but perhaps that is the feeling the author meant to convey.   I did not trust my own recollection of what I had read at times, because one reality of the life Ada experiences is completely differently from the next.  This novel offers a fascinating explanation and exploration of the experience of mental illness and gender dysphoria.  There is so much to think about and ways to interpret what the author is conveying, that this would make a great book club book.
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This review will appear on my blog (link below) and Goodreads on Thursday 15 March.

In brief ★★★★½

Vividly written and imaginatively conceived, Freshwater is a powerful tale about what women endure and how our minds cope with trauma. Told from a series of voices inside the 'marble room' of Ada's mind, the strong personalities vie for primacy as they both guide her towards and shield her from abuse, violence and self-harm (trigger warnings). The writing was the standout feature, full of rich voices that twist and tangle words into clever, unique strands. An extraordinary debut - one I hope will pick up awards as it makes its way into the world.

I received an advanced e-book copy of Freshwater from Grove Atlantic via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

In depth

Plot: While this isnt a plot-driven novel, the story loosely follows Ada's life in Nigeria and the US from the perspective of the ogbanje, or deities, that inhabit her body and mind. The novel essentially tackles a question posed late in the book - "She was a question wrapped up in breath: how do you survive when they place a god inside your body?" These ogbanje begin as a chorus of voices, telling how the gate between their world and the human world has been left open, but eventually one wrests much of the narrative from the others, using Ada's body to satisfy her carnal desires. Ada's relationships mark key points in the story, both the healthy and unhealthy ones, while the brothersisters (those gods still on the other side of the gate) beckon the ogbanje within Ada to come home. Ada herself has two or three small interludes throughout, but the story ends in her own voice too, as she comes to terms with the voices in her head. The reader is left questioning - are the ogbanje real (for us, or for Ada), or just a device to distance herself from her experiences and behaviours?

Characters: Ada, is largely a vessel for the ogbanje, so we mostly see her through their collective eyes. To them she is both vital (as the carrier of their existence) and weak (as humans appear to them). They are protective of her, but also cause her great, irrevocable harm. Ada's family orbits on the outside of the tale, but key encounters with lovers mark the main storyline progressions - some abusive, some tender, others healing and liberating. The humans of this novel are all on the outer, though. The main ogbanje, Asughara, asserts her guilt-free, desire-hungry identity firmly about a third of the way into the story, the collective 'We' narrators allowing her to step out of the collective for a time. To me, Asughara is the human reptilian brain, without the higher judgement functions - she sleeps with whomever she likes in Ada's body, consequences be damned, but she is also caught short when another ogbanje, Saint Vincent, who wants his own things from Ada and her body. Without a doubt one of the most creative cast of characters in a novel I've ever encountered.

Themes: At its core, I interpreted this to be a novel about mental illness and the violences perpetrated on women. The ogbanje speak of their longing for home, through the gateway of death, and each manifestation feels like different dimensions of mental illness - depression, suicidal tendencies, nymphomania and schizophrenia. While their identity is never linked to diagnoses, their traits are left plainly for the reader to understand. Violence against women is present throughout, whether it is perpetrated by men in the outer world, or by the ogbanje's exercise of control over Ada's mind and body to fulfil their own needs. The filter of these god creatures shields the reader somewhat from the stark brutalities, but readers should be conscious of this going in.

Writing: Oh the writing, the writing! Emezi uses words in such a creative way - each sentence is warped and woven into something a chorus of gods might think or say, bringing a unique spin on the world to each page. There are points where the ogbanje reflections become a bit repetitive, but otherwise the language is a pure delight, full of vivid imagery (the three sacred objects they stitch into Ada's body to secure their anchorage) and rhythm. I will certainly re-read this to soak up the words again soon.

Recommended if you liked: The Lesser Bohemians
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