In “Freshwater,” Akwaeke Emezi tells a story that’s a bit like peeling an onion—lots of layers. I found it wordy when I started reading it; it took a while before I adjusted to the language. But once I got in, pausing to take breaks was a problem. It is that engrossing. Freshwater breaks the rules of identity and belonging; mental illness and coping mechanisms.

The story is the author’s debut about a character we can call her alter ego; Ada, born as the second child of a Nigerian father and a Tamil-Malaysian mother. A bildungsroman, it follows the mysterious circumstances of Ada’s birth as an ogbanje, and a child of Ala, Mother of the Earth, through her teenage years and her time in College and beyond.

For most of the story and up to the end, Ada struggles with her identity, coping with it by sectioning her multiple selves and naming them. The question, “How do you survive when they place a god inside your body?” succinctly captures this struggle. This identity struggle makes Ada have turbulent relationships with herself and people; from her mother to the fleeting affairs she has with men and at some point, women.

“We” is the entirety of the ogbanje living inside of her; who aren’t meant to stay for too long within her body but end up growing with her. I noticed how the “We” narrator spoke for all the different parts of Ada. It’s like they’re all in it together, sharing the story.

The “Asughara” narrator talks like someone you’d meet on the streets in Nigeria. There’s sha and no wahala and sprinkles of Igbo here and there. It adds a nice touch of home to the whole thing. However, Asughara is a rebellious self, strong-willed, and lustful, but destructive in the end; up to the point where Ada barely recognizes herself.

“Saint Vincent” is interesting; Ada’s more masculine and gay side, and there’s a hint of something different in terms of love. Throwing this character into the mix is a bold move, and I think the author handled it well, making it part of Ada’s journey.

The “Ada” narrator is a bit different from the rest. In the end, it’s like all the pieces come together in this version of Ada. It shows how identity can be a mix of different things, all blending into one.

But what really got me is Ada’s relationship with Yshua. It’s like a bumpy ride—she lets him in, then pushes him away, and sometimes thinks she doesn’t deserve him. It’s a mirror of how life can be tricky when we’re figuring things out, especially spiritually.

There’s this line that stuck with me: “To put the pieces of something together, you’d have to observe the pattern in which it was broken.” It sums up the whole of “Freshwater.” In Ada’s journey of figuring herself out, even with all the ups and downs, Emezi’s way of telling the story, along with the different voices, makes it a deep but real experience.

I give this a 5-star and recommend it to anyone who loves to read books on finding identity.


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1 Comment

  1. Mike


    This is a brief review that whets the appetite. There’s a lot of writing now outing the mysteries of our native land especially Igboland and it’s lovely that it’s mostly ladies that form the major authors probing phenomena that are also theirs. I look forward to getting to the book soon.

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