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Freshwater (2018)

by Akwaeke Emezi

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9204520,221 (4.03)49
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.… (more)
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» See also 49 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
NA ( )
  eshaundo | Jan 7, 2023 |
I had trouble following the plot and differentiating between the different characters. The writing itself was okay but overwritten. I don't think I got anything from it. It was an interesting concept but executed in a way that didn't meet my expectations. ( )
  ninagl | Jan 7, 2023 |
I found this book to be challenging in all the best ways. The word choice is so good, it really makes you feel like you're reading something that's not of this world, so at times it feels almost disturbing - in the way that reality is disturbing.

That the book confronts the ideas of what it means to be religious, to be faithful, to be mentally ill, or a fractured spirit - and then never really answers it in a way that makes any one way wrong, is so skillful that it took me an hour to even process my feelings. Ada is goddess, literally, figuratively - she is power and I love her.

Definitely would read again in the future. ( )
  zozopuff | Dec 19, 2022 |
This is an unusual novel. Ada, born ogbanje (an Igbo term) in Nigeria, experiences what many of us would call multiple personality. From an article written by the author (linked below), I found this definition: “An ogbanje is an Igbo spirit that’s born into a human body, a kind of malevolent trickster, whose goal is to torment the human mother by dying unexpectedly only to return in the next child and do it all over again.” Ada eventually attends college in the U.S., where her mental torments worsen.

The book is narrated by the various personae that live within Ada’s body. It explores metaphysical identity, gender, mental illness, cultural mythology, and spirituality. Ada experiences sexual abuse, which spurs the manifestation a persona that often takes charge, in essence “becomes” the primary self for a time and shields Ada’s core being from pain. At least, this is how I interpreted it. There are likely additional complexities beyond what I internalized. Emezi’s prose captures the essence of a fractured self. The first few chapters seem a bit chaotic, probably intentionally, and take a lot of figuring out. The second half is more straight-forward, easier to follow than the first, and I enjoyed it more. It is repetitive at times, especially the many degrading sexual episodes. Though I did not particularly enjoy the fragmented nature of the story, I could see how it represents Ada’s shattered identity. Emezi does an especially good job with the ending.

Sensitive readers should be advised that it contains a good amount of graphic content (e.g., profanity, drugs, promiscuous sex, depression, anorexia, self-mutilation, rape, child molestation, suicidal thoughts). It is too disturbing and disjointed for my taste, but I appreciate its literary merit. This book may appeal to readers that enjoy experimental fiction.

Here is an excerpt from the book to provide an idea of the writing style:
“Earlier, when we said she went mad, we lied. She has always been sane. It’s just that she was contaminated with us, a godly parasite with many heads, roaring inside the marble room of her mind. Everyone knows the stories of hungry gods, ignored gods, bitter, scorned, and vengeful gods. First duty, feed your gods. If they live (like we do) inside your body, find a way, get creative, show them the red of your faith, of your flesh; quiet the voices with the lullaby of the altar. It’s not as if you can escape us—where would you run to?”

And here’s the link to the author’s article referenced above.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
This was an amazing and unusual book. Ada is a young Nigerian girl who develops multiple personalities to cope with difficult realities. The story is told almost entirely from the perspective of Asugara, the most dominant of the personalities.

Asugara is fully self-aware and considers herself a "god" who lives in a marble room within Ada. Many times the book describes conversations and arguments between Ada and her internal "gods" in this marble room. In specific situations, one of the "gods" will step forward to interact with the world, protecting Ada.

I listened to the audio, which was narrated by the author. She really brought the lyrical prose to life. ( )
  sriddell | Aug 6, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
This unconventional novel tells the story of Ada, a baby born of mixed parentage who arrives in the world accompanied by a chaos of spirits, awakened at her birth when the gates between the spirit world and the world of the flesh are left open. ‘The first madness was that we were born,’ they say, ‘that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.’ By this, the spirits mean that rather than becoming a unitary whole with their host, they retain their own interests and preoccupations, as well as the wrenching awareness that they are dislocated from the realm of the gods: ‘We were sent through carelessly, with a net of knowledge snarled around our ankles, not enough to tell us anything, just enough to trip us up.’
 
"Emezi’s talent is undeniable."
added by jagraham684 | editPublisher's Weekly (Nov 27, 2017)
 
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For those of us
with one foot
on the other side
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I have lived many lives inside this body.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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