“How do you survive when they place a god inside your body? We said before that it was like shoving a sun into a bag of skin, so it should be no surprise that her skin would split or her mind would break”.
Reading Akwaeke Emezi debut yet extraordinary novel feels like a revelation to another world opposed to the physical. Needless to say, the book is transcendent, emotive, thrilling and full of life – all at the same time.
It’s apparently my first time reading a fiction that is scripted spiritually and my coherent thought as I read was seeing a “fresh” talent beginning to crave space for her self in the literary industry.
Freshwater uncovers the struggle of finding a haven within a concise space- between god and mortal body. Navigating the scuffle with a story of the Ada, a young girl who is ”ogbanje” a believe from Igbo culture that means a child that is both coming and going, a kind of evil spirit that constantly dies and is reborn as a plague of bad luck to a family but the Ada didn’t die.
The Ada lives in multiple personalities at once, seeming like she is being trapped forever between realms. The most rigid and uncontrollable of these personalities, Asughara, is unleashed after Ada is sexually assaulted on a Virginia campu.
“Ada wasn’t there any more. At all, at all. She wasn’t even a small thing curled up in the corner of her marble. There was only me. I expanded against the walls, filling it up and blocking her out completely.”
Asughara persuades Ada to chop off her long black hair and abstain from eating until she is frail and also encourages her to have sex with a friend’s two brothers, among other men. Asughara breaks the hearts of people Ada cares about and intentionally breaks up her tumultuous marriage.
We are later introduced to Saint Vincent, a gentler personality who prefers to “move in Ada’s dreams.” But it is Asughara who forces Ada’s rational self ever further into the background and takes over her body more than any other personality.
Freshwater, ultimately, is not just about being subjected to one’s demons, but about living with them and having to share 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. Most striking of all is the “we” voice of the ogbanje, which skitters frenetically across the page.
Emezi’s ability to literalize the experience of a fragmented identity is astonishing and one of the most exciting things about this book is imagining what Emezi will bring us next.