Freshwaterby Akwaeke Emezi
“Akwaeke Emezi is a major, exhilarating talent.” —NoViolet Bulawayo, author of We Need New Names
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, heart-wrenching, 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: Asughara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves—now protective, now hedonistic—take control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.
Told from the perspective of the various selves within Ada, and closely based on the author’s own personal experiences, Freshwater explores the metaphysics of identity and mental health, plunging the reader into the mystery of being and self. Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.
“In her mind-blowing debut, Emezi weaves traditional Igbo myth that turns the well-worn narrative of mental illness on its head, and in doing so she has ensured a place on the literary-fiction landscape as a writer to watch . . . Emezi’s brilliance lies not just in her expert handling of the conflicting voices in Ada’s head but in delivering an entirely different perspective on just what it means to go slowly mad. Complex and dark, this novel will simultaneously challenge and reward lovers of literary fiction. A must-read.”—Booklist (starred review)
“[A] spiritually lush and tough yet lyrical debut . . . A gorgeous, unsettling look into the human psyche, richly conceived yet accessible to all.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“[An] enthralling, metaphysical debut novel . . . Emezi’s talent is undeniable. She brilliantly depicts the conflict raging in the ‘marble room’ of Ada’s psyche, resulting in an impressive debut.”—Publishers Weekly
“Freshwater is sheer perfection: sexy, sensual, spiritual, wise. One of the most dazzling debuts I’ve ever read.”—Taiye Selasi, Guardian
“Nigerian-born author Emezi presents an emotionally charged debut with her novel, Freshwater . . . Emezi’s prose is vibrant and terrifying; she portrays Ada’s tribulations with breathtaking detail. Freshwater is a novel of unforgiving spirituality told in a manner that is sophisticated, precise and elegant.”—IndiePicks Magazine
“In Emezi’s remarkable debut novel, Freshwater, we enter the lives of our protagonist, starting in Nigeria and ending in the United States. Every page is imbued with radiant prose, and a chorus of poetic voices. With a plot as alive and urgent as it is relatable, Freshwater is also solidly its own, brims with its unique preoccupations. Never before have I read a novel like it—one that speaks to the unification and separation of bodies and souls, the powers or lack thereof of gods and humans, and the long and arduous journey to claiming our many selves, or to setting our many selves free.” —Chinelo Okparanta, author of Under The Udala Trees
“What if we were not one person, but three in one body—created by careless gods who forgot to ‘close the gate’? Akwaeke Emezi’s novel, Freshwater, paints a fiercely unique, unforgettable story of identity, mental health and the world beyond ours. This impressive debut is lyrical and well-told.”—Tananarive Due, author of Ghost Summer
“A clarion call to those of us who find that our minds are more haunted and complex than that of the status quo. In exquisite, unearthly prose, Akwaeke Emezi renders the ordinary strange and the strange, ordinary—making Freshwater the most stunning debut novel I’ve read in years. An unforgettable literary experience.”—Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Border of Paradise
“Freshwater is one of those dazzling novels that defies these kinds of descriptions. We can gesture to the story—set in Nigeria and America, told by all the selves of its Tamil/Igbo protagonist—but such synthesis fails to convey the magic that awaits its reader. At once fiction and memoir, potent in its spiritual richness and sexual frankness, the text seems not to have been written by but channeled through its brilliant author. This may be Emezi’s debut novel but she is an old—an ancient—storyteller: thrillingly at home in the tradition of griots, poets, seers and seekers.”—Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go
“With this stunning debut, Akwaeke Emezi has blessed us with nothing less than a masterpiece. Freshwater is a journey of loss and reconciliation, home and heartbreak, and ultimately a survivor’s guide to harmonizing spirit and flesh. Quite simply a gorgeous, elegant, and brutal work of truthtelling. To repeat: A masterpiece.”—Daniel José Older, New York Times bestselling author of The Shadowshaper Cypher series
“Wow. The net effect is a feeling of being peeled open, and quickly finding that skinless place to be normal. More than any novel I can remember, it feels utterly present to the place we are in the world.”—Binyavanga Wainaina, author of One Day I Will Write About This Place
“Akwaeke Emezi is a major, exhilarating talent.”—NoViolet Bulawayo, Booker-shortlisted author of We Need New Names
An Indie Next Selection
Named a Most Anticipated Fiction Book of 2018 by Bustle
Named One of the Best Books to Read This Winter by Elle
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by Book Riot
We came from somewhere—everything does. When the transition is made from spirit to flesh, the gates are meant to be closed. It’s a kindness. It would be cruel not to. Perhaps the gods forgot; they can be absentminded like that. Not maliciously—at least, not usually. But these are gods, after all, and they don’t care about what happens to flesh, mostly because it is so slow and boring, unfamiliar and coarse. They don’t pay much attention to it, except when it is collected, organized and souled.
By the time she (our body) struggled out into the world, slick and louder than a village of storms, the gates were left open. We should have been anchored in her by then, asleep inside her membranes and synched with her mind. That would have been the safest way. But since the gates were open, not closed against remembrance, we became confused. We were at once old and newborn. We were her and yet not. We were not conscious but we were alive—in fact, the main problem was that we were a distinct we instead of being fully and just her.
So there she was: a fat baby with thick, wet black hair. And there we were, infants in this world, blind and hungry, partly clinging to her flesh and the rest of us trailing behind in streams, through the open gates. We’ve always wanted to think that it was a careless thing the gods did, rather than a deliberate neglect. But what we think barely matters, even being who we are to them: their child.