Review: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

October 2, 2018
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, InToriLex
Published By: Grove Press on February 13, 2018
Format Read: Hardcover Edition (229 pages)
Genre: Adult/ African/ Mental Health
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Purchased
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 by the various selves within Ada and based in the author's realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice. 


Content Warning: Rape, Sexual Abuse, Suicide, Substance Abuse, Self Harm


I didn't know what I was in for when I started this reading this road map into Ada's mind. Ada is a woman whose group of identities control and direct her life. The spectacular prose morphed this exploration of mental illness, into a memorable character study of  identity, gender and race. The novel follows Ada's life from birth through adulthood as she grapples with her relationships and changing personality. Ada's inner dialogue was insightful and straight forward which made her complex emotions accessible for any reader.  
“We understood what was necessary -humans often fail at listening, as if their stubbornness will convince the truth to change, as if they have that kind of power. They do, however, understand forceful things, cruelties--they obey those.”
Ada's experiences tragedy and heart break as she struggles to identify how to help her self. She also explores her sexuality and gender in different ways as her other selves possess her. All of it is told through a non- judgemental persona who does not want to limit their ability to experience humanity in brutal ways through sex and self harm. Ada moves from Nigeria to America to attend college and encounters other cultures, races and love. In college she is able to find other students and friends that help her adjust and cope with her other selves. The described intersections and otherness she feels as she develops into a woman in a clash of cultures was very relateable.
“But I've learned that you can't force forever on the wrong people. They belong exactly where they are, giving exactly what they want to. I don't ask for anything more. I figure I shouldn't have to.” 
I connected with Ada and her experiences emotionally in so many ways. After reading this book I was reminded of my own problematic relationships and experiences. This book forces the reader to dissect their own humanity and confront their emotions as Ada does. The African mythology and spirituality discussed also added great layers to this labyrinth of a story. The diversity, characters and plot flowed together effortlessly.  I would recommend this book to everyone, bless your self and read it as soon as possible.

Recommended for Readers who
- enjoy diverse character driven stories that address mental illness
- are comfortable reading about mature topics and self harm
- enjoy unconventional and compelling storytelling


Akwaeke Emezi, InToriLex
Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer and video artist based in liminal spaces. They are a recipient of the National Book Foundation's '5 Under 35' award for 2018, selected by Carmen Maria Machado. Currently short-listed for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize, their debut autobiographical novel FRESHWATER (Grove Press) was also long-listed for The Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize and is a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and an Indies Introduce Title.

Emezi's first young adult novel, PET, will be published in 2019 by Make Me a World, Christopher Myers' imprint in partnership with Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria, Emezi holds two degrees, including an MPA from New York University. In 2017, they were awarded a Global Arts Fund grant for the video art in their project The Unblinding, and a Sozopol Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction. Emezi's writing has been published by Dazed Magazine, The Cut, Buzzfeed, Granta Online, Vogue.com, and Commonwealth Writers, among others. Their memoir work was included in The Fader's 'Best Culture Writing of 2015' ('Who Will Claim You?') and their experimental short UDUDEAGU won the Audience Award for Best Short Experimental at the 2014 BlackStar Film Festival.

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