Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 Stars
Fierce is the first word that comes to mind when I think of the reading experience of “Freshwater”. I was also dazzled but fierce is way more appropriate. I don’t know if I have ever read something like this book before (in all probability no) but I can say that this one stands out like no other book has for me in the last year or so (beside Homegoing).
Emezi’s book cannot be classified that easy. Actually, I think one of the reasons it breaks form is this. There is a sense of familiarity while reading “Freshwater” and bam!, before you know it, the sense of the known is gone and you are left wanting more.
Ada is born with an Ogbanje (a godlike Igbo spirit) inside her, and the story begins with Ogbanje’s narration from inside her body. Interesting enough for you to pick it up? Oh wait there is more! Ada is not just born with one spirit inside of her. There are more. And that’s what the book is about. Many lives inside and the one that will ultimately live.
“Freshwater” however is more than what I have mentioned here. It is rooted deep in mythology, covering identity, mental illness and trauma. The book will pierce inside of you and make you see things you never thought of before.
Emezi’s powerful prose comes from a different place within her, I think. To conjure different spirits and narrate the book through their points of view is truly magnificent. She then has turned the idea of identity and being on its head, which kept me hooked way into the night.
The idea of a protagonist’s identity being dependent on many and for the reader to be involved for her voice to be heard is not only experimental in form but also when it comes to story-telling. Emezi writes deeply and emotionally, just the way a book like this (or any book for that matter) is meant to be written. This book made me feel all sorts of emotions – love, anger, despair, and also made me perhaps understand myself a lot more.
“Freshwater” is an experience and not just a book on fantastical realism or something dark and powerful (which it sure is). It takes you on a different journey with Ada and her spirits – along with culture, experiences, making it more challenging and thought-provoking read. I cannot recommend it enough.