FRESHWATER by Akwaeke Emezi
Grove Press, February 13, 2018
It’s hard to talk about something that has no precedent. Freshwater is utterly unique, and the result is breathtaking. It’s a dark, sensual, and thoughtful novel about a young woman coming to terms with and accepting the multiple identities that define her.
The details of Ada’s life – raised in Nigeria, relocated to the U.S. for college – are only an elemental framework for what is ultimately an introspective story. The majority of this book is narrated by a chorus of Ada’s selves – conceptualized as Nigerian ogbanje – until a traumatic assault in college causes two of these selves to take shape, as Asụghara and Saint Vincent.
What I found so stimulating about this novel is that it challenged a lot of my conceptions about health and identity, particularly in how these are often so heavily informed by western culture. The perceived objectivity of psychology is something I’ve always found comforting and taken for granted, but with this book, I’m reminded of the significance of the relationship between culture and identity. Steeped in Igbo folklore, Freshwater chronicles Ada’s journey (and Emezi’s, as the book is informed by a lot of autobiographical elements) in a way that’s challenging, unexpected, and beautiful.
Emezi’s prose is so assured and lyrical it’s hard to believe this is a debut. This is an author to watch and a novel that absolutely everyone should read.
Thank you to Netgalley, Grove Press, and Akwaeke Emezi for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.