Thursday, May 17, 2018


Title:  Freshwater
Author:  Akwaeke Emezi
Publication Information:  Grove Press. 2017. 240 pages.
ISBN:  0802127355 / 978-0802127358

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I have lived many lives inside this body."

Favorite Quote:  "Understand this if you understand nothing:  it is a powerful thing to be seen"

Freshwater is "dedicated to those of us with one foot on the other side." Is that you? Is that me? Is that all of us? Is that any of us at all? What also is the other side? The other side of what? This book poses questions before it even begins.

The question simply grow in this surreal debut novel. This story is of one women but three characters. Ada is the young woman of Nigerian heritage. Asụghara and Saint Vincent are two distinct, unique selves that also occupy Ada's body. Each one of the three characters within this one young woman by turn narrate this story of being born, growing up, of growing into yourself, and of mental health. Within this personal story also weaves a cultural one with Ada's birth and childhood in Nigeria to her education and further life in the United States.

As with most books that introduce me to a new history or a new culture, I research this to see if it is based in Nigerian mythology. I research mythology for the ideas in the book of multiple selves and of spirits competing to control a physical body are mythological in presentation.

The first piece of information I encounter in my research is on the author's website. This book is Akwaeke Emezi's debut novel and considered autobiographical. Autobiographical. That puts this entire reading experience into a new light. This surreal story is someone's reality captured in fiction. This calls for further research.

Ms. Emezi identifies as black, gender non-binary, and Nigerian. In another article, Ms. Emezi describes the surgeries she has had to align her physical body with her non-gender specific identification. Throughout, she identifies the idea of being a ogbanje. In Igbo tradition, ogbanje is a spirit born into a child with the objective of bringing grief to the family. The child dies; the ogbanje returns as another child. And again and again, the spirit comes and goes. Families attempt to stop this cycle in varying ways ranging from preventing pregnancy to mutilating a child's corpse prior to burial. So, this autobiographical fiction story has its roots in life and in belief.

This unusual reality brings me to the book itself as a reading experience. This story is challenging to follow because it is nonlinear. The "characters" all embody what happens to one individual. So, the plot such as it is centers on one person, but the story comes from three very different emotional and mental perspectives. It makes it difficult to follow the chronology of Ada's life.

To make the challenge greater, the plot follows a rather graphic story line. Self mutilation, rape, and sexual encounters are a big part of this story. At times, the book seems rather focused on sexual exploration. That focus takes over and makes the book a difficult one for me for get through.

In between, though, the book offers glimpses of the person beneath all these layers. "... I inhabit a space between depression and happiness, a sweet spot, a brilliant spot. I .... wondered if it was true. If it was, could that spot be more real than either end of that spectrum? It would be a point of perfect balance, I thought." I wish her that balance.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment