A review by nannahnannah
Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi

challenging emotional informative slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


Freshwater is a fictionalized account of parts of Akwaeke Emezi's life. It brings up how there are perhaps other ways of looking at mental illnesses (well, what we in the Western world would consider mental illnesses). In this case, Emezi's character is inhabited by a god.

Ada is a Nigerian and Tamil woman whose sense of self fractures after a traumatic incident in college. She is also an ọgbanje, a minor god—or perhaps a collective god—Nigerian trickster spirits who had been more or less stuffed into Ada's human body when she was born. For years, Ada will fight with two distinct selves that form from the ọgbanje for control over her body and, if you're familiar with Western DID, the "front" of herself.

I won't lie, this book was painful to read for a host of reasons. It was frustrating, it was difficult, and at many times I wanted to put it down. Much of that has to do with my own difficulties with some of the things Ada was going through, and some of that had to do with me being completely uninterested in the repetition of the sex life of one of Ada's selves. There was so much sex. And a focus on men in general. But because this follows the author's life so closely, it's hard for me to fault that. When your trauma is so deeply rooted to men, it can make sense.

I also struggled a little bit with the prose. Don't get me wrong, overall Emezi's writing is gorgeous. But when every line is a little bit overwritten, the book becomes wearisome—some lines were beautiful, but at the same time I found myself wondering if they even meant something other than that. There were also a few problems I had with parts that were too coincidental, like when Ada needed to get into her boyfriend's room, so the book brought up random karate lessons that had never been mentioned before (and were never mentioned since), and Ada was able to kick the door down. Again, I'm aware this probably happened in the author's life, but as a story, it felt a little off.

However, the way that Emezi describes Ada's gender and dysphoria was incredibly relatable. That's just how I felt growing up and being called a boy: "the misfit of it fit." Even if it wasn't relatable to me in particular, it's so accessibly written.

I also want to make a note that the suicide parts are super intense. I did not feel that well mentally when or after I read them. If there weren't only a few pages left, I might not have finished it. Please be careful while reading this, but know that my reaction has no bearing on the work itself.

I feel bad rating this under four stars, but even though I consider this a very important work, it just wasn't a book I particularly enjoyed very much. And some extremely important works aren't enjoyable and aren't supposed to be. In this case, it's definitely a me problem and not the book's problem. It's beautifully written and so very honest, and I appreciate it so much for that, but near the end I just couldn't wait for it to be over. And yet I am very glad that I read it.

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