Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi is an extraordinary and enthralling multicultural work of art. I hope that this review will be as coherent as I intend it to be. For the reason that putting my thoughts and opinions about this novel to words was not easy. Starting this off with emphasis on how this read was sombre, disturbing. Yet vibrant, inspiring and highly introspective for me. I like to believe I speak the same for most readers.
“Think of brief insanities that are in you, not just the ones that blossomed as you grew into taller, more sinful versions of yourself, but the ones you were born with, tucked behind your liver. Take us, for instance.”
~Excerpt from Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi; Theme & Style.
This remarkable semi-autobiographic debut by Emezi entails a fascinating approach to a lot of difficult topics experienced by Ada. Ranging from mental health, self-harm, sexual and emotional abuse to gender dysphoria. In addition, an imaginative and lyrical prose paying intricate attention to Igbo mythology. This brings me to the topic of ogbanje; spirit child. A response from an Igbo diety. Ada’s existence is linked with cosmic forces rooted in Igbo mythology. As Ada survives into adulthood as an ogbanje. She struggles to come to terms with the surreal demand that she is to follow a predestined path and its adverse effects.
For this reason, the collision of the two realities brings about one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had reading a novel of this kind. Following this, keep in mind (If you haven’t read the novel). Freshwater can be read in different perspectives. Perceived and experienced in many ways. For instance, Ada’s experiences with mental health issues, sexual abuse, an eating disorder etc. In the novel, viewed as effects that arise as a result of being an ogbanje. Rather than viewed as conditions that require counselling or treatment. Consequently, readers who are not accustomed to the conditions being treated superficially may find it difficult. In addition the poetic depiction of mental illness. Most notably, correlation in the aspect of gender identity and ogbanje .
This novel took A LOT of patience to read (If you haven’t read it, you’re going to need it). Firstly, if you are a reader who strives on consistency, a linear storyline or progressive character development. Freshwater will likely prove to be a difficult read. Thus, this novel is more like a series of narrations and events. With highly poetic sections, metaphorical narrations, overlapping stories retold differently. Secondly, there is no build-up. The nonlinear quality of the narrative especially in the earlier chapters, were in the form of poems and diary entries. A lot of it was arduous to read. I found myself often confused as to how certain things came about. That is to say the novel can be perceived to be choppily written, occasionally flat, repetitive and boring.
Given the narrative, although strenuous to stay engaged with. I must give the author credit for the effort of pulling off such a beautifully crafted novel. Moreover, the title of the book honestly makes little to no sense to me. Neither does its reference at the end of the novel nor what it was trying to convey.
Plot & Characters.
Firstly, expect very toxic, significant and fleeting relationships. And toxic characters with no real character development. I cannot stress this enough. Secondly, the story starts by introducing us to Ada in a first-person collective voice; “We”. And maps a precise trajectory of her talented but troubled mind and dysfunctional upbringing from childhood. To her turbulent college years of inconsistent behavior, self-destructive behavior, sexual violence and psychosocial identity crisis.
“Even when she couldn’t cut her skin anymore, I was sharp enough to do it from the inside because we both knew the sacrifices could never stop”
~Excerpt from Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
The story centered on Ada’s ability to accept and coexist with the entities inside her. Along with the adverse effects. It was very emotionally exhausting going through Ada’s journey through the pages. She strives to bridge gaps between her and her conflicting multitudinous selves. I had a very strong dislike for ‘We’. Ferocious, hedonistic, vain, selfish and most especially toxic. These are some of the few words I can use to describe them. Not surprising, as they are “gods”. The most toxic relationship is the one Ada has with her many selves, especially Asughara. The most intense and consequential has to be her fleeting relationship with Ewan which I enjoyed reading about. In spite of its toxicity. Akwaeke expressed these enthralling dynamics with a vibrant lyrical prose.
There are more aspects to this unique and transforming novel especially Ada’s journey to peace. In addition the metaphysical storytelling by the spirits and the role each character played in her journey. I would love to discuss. But there is only so much I can say. This novel is definitely a book club novel. There is so much to unravel.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi is a unique and vibrant spiritual literary fiction about a woman's struggles and journey of trauma, mental illness, gender identity, sexual violence, inner peace and ...