Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Freshwater

by Akwaeke Emezi

“Akwaeke Emezi is a major, exhilarating talent.” —NoViolet Bulawayo, author of We Need New Names

  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date February 13, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2735-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $24.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Publication Date February 13, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6556-5
  • US List Price $24.00

About the Book

Ada has always been unusual. As an infant in southern Nigeria, she is a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but something must have gone awry, as the young Ada becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief.

But Ada turns out to be more than just volatile. Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves. When Ada travels to America for college, a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these alters—now protective, now hedonistic—move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dangerous direction.

Written with stylistic brilliance and based in the author’s realities, this raw and extraordinary debut explores the metaphysics of identity and being, plunging the reader into the mysteries of self. Unsettling, heart-wrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.

Tags Literary

Praise

Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Longlisted for the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
An Indies Introduce Title
An Amazon Top 10 Book Pick (February 2018)
Named One of the 10 Best Books of the Year (So Far) by Esquire
Named One of the Best Books to Read This Winter by Elle

“An extraordinarily powerful and very different kind of physical and psychological migration story.”—Edwidge Danticat, New Yorker

“A witchy, electrifying story of danger and compulsion . . . Freshwater recounts the ‘litany of madness’ suffered by Ada in a serpentine prose that proceeds by oblique, hypnotizing movements before it sinks its fangs into you . . . As striking and mysterious as the ways of the gods who narrate it . . . The latest standout in this exciting boom in the Nigerian novel.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“The novel is based in many of the realities of the writer’s life, but the prose is infused with imaginative lyricism and tone . . . The journey undertaken in the novel is swirling and vivid, vicious and painful, and rendered by Emezi in [sharp and glittering] shards . . . Emezi’s lyrical writing, her alliterative and symmetrical prose, explores the deep questions of otherness, of a single heart and soul hovering between, the gates open, fighting for peace.”—Susan Straight, Los Angeles Times

“A startling debut novel explores the freedom of being multiple . . . Igbo spirituality, Emezi radically suggests, has as much to offer as any [Western] schemas when it comes to decrypting human folly or transcendence . . . The book would have made grim sense through a mental-health lens; instead, it is an indigenous fairy tale . . . The book becomes a study in dysphoria—not precisely the distress of being misgendered but the more nebulous pain of being imprisoned in a physical form, of losing your wraith-like ability to evade categorization . . . There is something self-defeating about trying to trace a self that is defined by indefinability; one achievement of Emezi’s book is to make that paradox feel generously fertile.”Katy Waldman, New Yorker

“Remarkable and daring . . . Poetic and disturbing . . . Rooting Ada’s story in Igbo cosmology forces us to further question our paradigm for what causes mental illness and how it manifests. It causes us to question science and reason.”—Tariro Mzezewa, New York Times

“Akwaeke Emezi is a name you will want to remember, because surely it is one you will be hearing again and again . . . A stunning and disorienting story about a broken woman trying to overcome the pain of her human life while straddling ‘the other side’ . . . Freshwater is unlike any novel I have ever read. Its shape-shifting perspective is radical and innovative, twisting the narrative voices like the bones of a python . . . Emezi has not only made a rich contribution to Igbo mythology, she has crafted a novel so unique and fresh, it feels as if the medium has been reinvented.”Safa Jinje, Toronto Star

“Akwaeke Emezi’s bewitching and heart-rending Freshwater is a coming-of-age novel like no other . . . For anyone who has experienced life as a misfit or outcast, this is a resonant rendition . . . For all its sheer invention, Freshwater feels more like an interpretive journey through uncharted territory with an experienced guide. Potent and moving, knowing and strange, this is a powerful and irresistibly unsettling debut.”—David Wright, Seattle Times

“A new kind of bildungsroman . . . Probably better called a work of autofiction . . . Freshwater reimagines the genre of psychological self-portrait. Ada suffers the slings and arrows of mental torture more than the average protagonist. She finds a kind of peace, however, in identifying her conflicting and compartmentalized selfhoods as ọgbanje . . . The ọgbanje are so useful precisely because they offer an alternative to metaphor, an alternative to literary device—they bring the marvelous and the near-imaginary to the realm of autofiction.”—Josephine Livingstone, New Republic

“Ground-shaking . . . It is a battle for a body and a soul, and the stakes are high.”—Nadja Spiegelman, Paris Review

“Akwaeke Emezi . . . is a literary trickster, an Afropolitan who glides between US and Nigerian cultures, mores, and faiths . . . The great trick of this novel is that we want not only peace for Ada, but also for the troubled spirits inhabiting, and one with, her. Reading Emezi’s unfolding integration of fictional forms and modes of thinking—spiritual, analytical, historical, cultural, clinical—you feel like you are witnessing a talented and emotionally astute writer finding her voice(s). Freshwater is a dazzling, problematic debut that promises so much more.”—Rob Spillman, Guernica

“Stunning . . . The talk of the literary town . . . Exceptional . . . A novel that sidesteps contemporary fiction’s more obvious beats . . . The story veers into harrowing territory . . . but it’s so imaginative and dreamy and lyrical that a light still shines through.”—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

“Feels like watching the beginning of something big: [Freshwater] is so shivery, so electric, that the first coherent thought you can put together as you read is that you’re watching a major new talent beginning to carve out a space for herself . . . Freshwater, ultimately, is not a book about giving in to one’s demons, but about living with them. It’s about finding a home within liminal spaces—between genders, between life and death, between god and human—and finding a way to play within them. And Emezi’s voice is enormously playful, playing with the rhythms of sentences and the conflicting and contrasting voices in Ada’s head . . . And she’s just getting started. One of the most exciting things about this book is imagining what Emezi will bring us next.”—Constance Grady, Vox

“This debut novel by an Igbo and Tamil writer is an intricately plotted story of fractured identity that signals the arrival of a major talent.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Emezi’s voice is hypnotic and powerful and imaginative, leaving the reader unsure of what in the story is real and what is not . . . It’s a story that will remind you of the importance of reading . . . In a world crammed to the heavens with unnecessary books, this is a book that demands to exist as a book . . . Take a long, slow swim in Freshwater to remind yourself why you love reading in the first place.”—Seattle Review of Books

“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

Freshwater is sheer perfection: sexy, sensual, spiritual, wise. One of the most dazzling debuts I’ve ever read.”—Taiye Selasi, Guardian

“Akwaeke Emezi parts the seas of the self in her engrossing debut novel, Freshwater.”—Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair

“Part magical realism, part meditation on mental illness . . . Ada’s struggle provides a thought-provoking and visceral exploration of life with an altered state of mind.”—Harper’s Bazaar

“Harrowing yet beautiful . . . Racing through [Freshwater] felt disrespectful—To the gods? To Emezi? To literature itself?—for [it] is the kind of novel that deserves, no, demands immersion and focus. Every sentence left me reeling, every paragraph on the edge of my seat, and every chapter begging for more. I could’ve spent hundreds of pages more in Emezi’s lush creation . . . For a debut novelist, Akwaeke Emezi has successfully pulled off what many longtime writers only dream of doing. It’s an astonishing, haunting, stunning piece of work.”—Tor.com

“Ambitious and original . . . Befitting a story about a fractured mind, the style of the novel is unconventional. Not only does Emezi write in multiple voices, but the story also progresses in a nonlinear fashion . . . Brilliant.”—Zyzzyva

“Emezi’s tale of Ada’s journey is astonishing.”Jane Ciabattari, BBC

“Powerful . . . readers are sure to hold their breath.”Bustle

“Akwaeke Emezi has a brilliant voice and her perspective, being non-binary, trans, and an ogbanje spirit herself, lends the novel its heart. The story pushes back against the typical Western language and ideas surrounding gender and consciousness, and rejects colonialism’s attempt to delegitimize Nigerian traditions and Igbo spirituality.”—Interview

“Far surpasses your average edgy coming-of-age novel . . . A gripping read that deftly achieves what many postmodern books strive for—a discussion and interrogation of the fractured self—in a way that puts its contemporaries to shame. It is clearer, faster, more intimate, and more inventive than many other topically comparative books . . . A remarkable take on human interiority.”—Riveter

Freshwater is the first novel from Akwaeke Emezi, marking the beginning of what will surely be a long, storied career. Strikingly original and impossible to put down, it tracks the life of a Nigerian woman—from birth through to her adulthood unraveling—and will leave you breathless by the very end.”—PopSugar

“Akwaeke Emezi’s debut Freshwater is a completely unique novel that explores the fragmented selves of a Nigerian woman named Ada. Narrated from multiple perspectives, Freshwater is a dynamic encounter with selfhood, mental illness and the complex experience of being.”—Culture Trip (UK)

“The feat of this novel is Emezi’s language to describe the experience of gods—Freshwater is a true original.”Globe and Mail

“Emezi’s powerful and poetic debut deftly mines the complicated world of mental illness.”Business Insider

“Emezi has established herself as a young writer to watch with an engrossing tale of identity, mental illness and spirituality . . . Emezi’s careful structuring and poetic language provides a pleasing balance to keep us stabilized as we reach toward high planes. Reading Freshwater, then, is akin to letting oneself over to a luminous experience; we are enveloped fully from page one, and leave the novel feeling transformed.”—Iowa Gazette

“Lyrical and dazzling . . . an intimate, spiritual, and haunting story; one that feels both unique and relatable in its exploration of identity, coming of age, and living with trauma and mental illness. A stunning, genre-bending debut novel from a brilliant new writer—reading Freshwater is a transportive, otherworldly experience.”—Shondaland

“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

“[A] haunting yet stunning exploration of mental illness grounded in traditional Nigerian spirituality . . . Employing precise and poetic yet accessible prose, Emezi brilliantly crafts distinct voices for each of Ada’s selves and puts them in conversation with each other . . . She balances multiple lands, ethnicities, perspectives and belief systems with the ease of a writer far beyond her age and experience. Freshwater is a brutally beautiful rumination on consciousnesses and belief and a refreshing contribution to our literary landscape.”—BookPage

“Akwaeke Emezi’s standout first novel, Freshwater, is a riveting and peculiar variation on coming of age . . . The poetics of Emezi’s prose enhance the mythology she evokes. As enchanting as it is unsettling, Freshwater tickles all six senses. The chorus of voices narrating Ada’s life achieves a remarkable balance between cruel machinations of cavalier deities and deep empathy for the distressed vessel they inhabit . . . dazzling.”—Shelf Awareness

“Akwaeke Emezi’s debut, Freshwater, is this silk, a slim novel so rooted in its lineage and yet so bright, putting thoughts together in new ways, crafting a devastating and exuberant work. One almost cannot believe that Emezi is using the words we are used to using, because she transmutes them into a story that, while accessible and often relatable, is entirely its own. She breathes new dimensions into language and story. You would be hard-pressed to find a reader, any reader, who could complete this book and fail to call it a masterpiece.”—Book Reporter

 

 

“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

“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

“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

Awards

An Indie Next Selection
Named One of the Best Books to Read This Winter by Elle
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by Esquire, the Huffington PostElectric Lit, the MillionsBitchThe RumpusBustleShondaland, the Toronto Star, and Book Riot

Excerpt

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.