Freshwater is a debut novel by rising author, Akwaeke Emezi, who channelled the spirit of her predecessor, Ben Okri in this very thrilling book.
The book is about a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who has a fractured self – in all honesty, it’s more like quite a lot of selves all trapped in there. And I say trapped – because that’s precisely how it feels to all of them. Not all of it is apparent to Ada, but we, as a silent bystander, a listener of their story, get to see the whole picture.
As a matter of fact, Ada gets to have her say perhaps in only 2 chapters throughout the entire book – the rest is her other selves speaking. And her other selves aren’t, well… human. Her other selves are a collection of mythological powers, trapped in a human body. Unappeased and wreaking havoc.
This masterpiece, albeit its flaws, is akin to diving into a pool of dark and murky water taking a leave of your senses whilst you don’t really want to extricate yourself from the situation.
Humanising The Fractured Protagonist
Not a lot of books about protagonists who suffer from a form of personality disorder is written to delve into what makes the character human.
Ada is portrayed as completely normal despite her problems, and in multiple instances it is stressed that she is sane, and that none of this is her fault.
The fact that Ada’s suffering comes from the fact that she is essentially multiple beings, born into one, and not given the gift of forgetting – being born aware is an amazing concept.
Seeing and explaining mental health problems through the prism of demons and old gods might not always work in our reality, but it’s an incredible concept.
There is a reason a two-headed snake is on the cover.
Very Relatable Character
Even if just in little ways, it’s not hard to see how traumatic events can change you, branch out new traits in you, even if you’re ‘normal’.
Maybe you won’t develop a new personality brach, but it’s easy to say you won’t be the same person as you were before the event.
Nothing with these tough topics could be free of them – and this book has rape, suicide attempts, a lot of suicidal ideation, lots of violence, some of it contains blood etc., brutal accidents, drugs.
If you are sensitive, keep in mind that you can’t read this book without submersion. And it’s pretty dark waters.
Some “Flaws” Potential Readers May Have Issues With
Freshwater is a novel that requires loads of patience and utmost concentration (most books of the magical realism genre are often like that).
If you’re a reader who clings to continuity, who needs progressive character development to follow the path a protagonist’s life, or a reader who is in the least bit squeamish, this will likely prove to be a difficult read for you. Not an unworthy read – but a difficult one.
The narrative leapt back and forth in time with new personalities and overlapping stories already told being retold differently. This book was a collage, a kaleidoscope, a reflection of a splintered self. Given the subject matter, the shattered quality of the narrative is understandable but at times arduous to read.