Verdict: Dark and weird and emotional and stylistically wonderful.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Date read: January 1st, 2018
Published by Grove Press, February 13th 2018
An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.
Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves–now protective, now hedonistic–move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.
Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.
This was absolutely stunning. From the very first page I knew I was in for something extraordinary and unlike anything I have ever read. This debut combines many things I adore in books: unconventional framing and unreliable narrators, a story that gets recontextualized constantly and kept me on my toes, a basis in mythology that informed but did not over-shadow the actual story, perfect sentence structure that packs an unbelievable punch, and so many more things that I am still struggling to adequately talk about.
This is Ada’s story, or more accurately Ada’s and her other personalities’ story. The first part is told in a we-perspective from her alternate personalities, brothersisters based in Nigerian mythology, that frame her story in what that means to them rather than her. The Ada, as she is called by them, then moves to the US where a traumatic events leads to a further fragmentation of self, Asụghara and Saint Vincent who will take over more and more. These two selves are even more different to her than the brothersisters were and tend to wreck havoc in her life. This description does not really do the book any justice because more than a straightforward narrative, the story unfolds forward and backwards with things happening (or not?) and is highly introspective. As I was wondering about the timeline, Akwaeke Emezi pulled the rug under me more often than I could count, leaving my head spinning and my heart broken.
I do not think I can do this book justice, but believe me when I say that this is an extraordinary achievement and unlike anything I read before. This will for sure stay with me and keep me thinking for months to come.
I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Grove Press in exchange for an honest review.