Book Review

Book Review: ‘Freshwater’ by Akwaeke Emezi

BOOK: FRESHWATER

AUTHOR: AKWAEKE EMEZI

PUBLISHED IN 2018

{The edition I read was published in Nigeria by Kachifo limited under its Farafina imprint}.

ISBN: 978-978-55597-1-2

LAYOUT AND COVER DESIGN: AKEEM IBRAHIM

PAGES: 249

At times when you read a book, you find yourself overwhelmed by emotions you cannot explain. Emotions that would make you pause, take a gait, cry, smile and laugh all at the same time. I felt that way with this book.

Identification in life is essential. Without an identification, nobody will ever know you in this world. In this book, Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, tells a story of girl, Ada, who is conceived as an answer to her father’s prayers. Ada is a response from Ala who is the earth herself, the judge and mother, the giver of law. Thus, this bildungsroman is about a character whose essence is rooted in Igbo cosmology which begins with her deliberate consciousness of her identity that has long existed before she was born.

Ada was the second child of Saul, a Nigerian doctor, and his Malaysian wife Saachi, a nurse who raised her in Nigeria. Ada was still a child when Saach left to work abroad, first in Saudi Arabia and then in the UK, although she visits her family in Nigeria once or twice each year and never lives in the same house with her proud husband. At 16, Ada left Nigeria for the United States where she spent her difficult college years in Virginia.

In Virginia, Ada met Malena, a Dominican girl who recognises her internal struggles without dismissing her experience as a dissociative identity disorder. This validation gave them some relief, because for them the “worst part of embodiment is being unseen”.

While in the US, Ada’s life was filled with both notable and quick relationships, including a short-lived marriage; the most intense and consequential was the one she had with her many selves—an ogbanje, a spirit child who had a claim on her head, “for being born incorrectly, for not returning, for crossing the ocean sifted with death”.

This book is narrated by different voices in her mind, which the two main personalities of her many selves were: Asughara and Saint Vincent.

Asughara’s voice is familiar and intimate, pleasant and typical Nigerian. Although she has been a part of Ada all along, Asughara comes to the fore after a traumatic event and declares on arrival, “I already knew Ada was mine, mine to move and take and save.” Rejoicing in her victorious possession of a human body, Asughara’s hunger for sexual desires is a brutal force which is never intervened by the thought of Ada’s emotional disorder. As a result from this attitude, Ada’s relationships were all wrecked.

Ada agitated with Asughara’s atitude decided it was time for departure. By this time, Ada fully aware that there was also a quiet and mild masculine self in “the marble room of her mind”, named Saint Vincent.

Before the arrival of Saint Vincent, Asughara had conversations with Yshwa—the man who was a man and not. Acknowledging his being and having them being born like him, “We knew him; we knew his name was Yshwa, we knew that he looked like everyone, all at once, at any time. His face could shift like a ghost. It was, we also knew, impossible for him not to hear her. He hears every prayer blabbed, screamed, sung at him. Yshwa too was born with spread gates, born with a prophesying tongue and hands he brought over from the other side.”

Asughara resented Yshwa every bit especially when he always tries saving Ada from her cruel mischief, “Yshwa didn’t give up on Ada.”

Yshwa seeing how violent and aggressive Asughara was, did not mind but persisted. “Do you really think what you’re doing with Ada is helping?” he asked, and I could feel my temper growing my nails out, long and pointed.

“He looked at me as if I was a wound.” “You’re so far away from home,” he said, so quickly that I thought he was talking to himself. Then he added, “I am not leaving her. You understand?”
After reading this part of this book, I couldn’t stop laughing. I said to myself, ‘Ahn-ahn, how can Yshwa stand just like that without teaching Asughara some difficult lessons?’

Asughara is one self I so much admire, not minding how aggressive she is. After her conversation with Yshwa, it didn’t still change the fact that Ada was hers:

“Yshwa touched my checked and his palm felt like wet silk” “I am not ashamed of you,” he said, as if it was nothing. “You know I love you.”

“…I was just glad that he was gone. He wasn’t getting her back, Ada was mine, I told myself, standing in the empty marble. She was mine.”

Saint Vincent in his gracious way intervenes mildly whenever Asughara and Ada had a disagreement, reminding her that “Asughara loves you.”

In the process of self-discovery, Ada finds a measure of peace, but not a cause for eliminating any of her selves, rather it was a cause for accepting and identifying who she was.

Freshwater is a book I’ll likely not forget anytime soon. So unique, inspiring and provoking. After my second read of this book, I realized that it was an autobiographical fiction. A part of her! And a part of me. I so much admire them for identifying themselves.

It was awesome to know that they actually went through all that and I am in love with every of them for their strength for sharing this book. In this life, identify yourself no matter how queerish it may seem. You only live once!

FAVOURITE QUOTE FROM THE BOOK: “…you have to know your place on this earth.”

Akwaeke Emezi is a non-binary transgender. The pronoun to be used when addressing Akwaeke is ‘they/them’. Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer and video artist based in liminal spaces, born in Umuahia and raised in Aba. Emezi won a 2015 Morland Writing Scholarship and is a graduate of the Farafina and Caine Prize Writing Workshops. Her short story Who is like God? won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa and her works have been published by Granta and Commonwealth Writers among others. Freshwater is her debut novel.

You can get Freshwater here.

Read Also==>Book Review: ‘On Black Sisters Street’ by Chika Unigwe

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5 Comments

  1. Didn’t quite understand the book after few pages but with this review. I’m surely finishing what I started.

    Kudos ma’am!

    1. Thank you, Stephen.
      Okay. That’s good to know. When you are done reading it once again, I am open to hear from you.

      Hugs!

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