A review by anovelbeauty
Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi

challenging dark emotional tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


Book TW: ❗️attempted suicide (on-page); rape (on-page)❗️abuse; eating disorder; repeated self-harm/mutilation; manipulation; involuntary hospitalisation

There’s a /lot/ to this novel. So much in fact, I almost feel I can’t write a decent review for it. I learned a lot through this novel, specifically about the Nigerian concept of ognanje. I know many aspects of this novel are also inspired by Emezi’s own experiences with their gender. Freshwater is extremely well written. It is beautiful and harsh, it unflinchingly explores a lot of deep and hurtful topics and let’s you draw your own conclusions about any one character’s morality (or lack thereof) and choices. 
Now, I do want to say, right up front, that this novel scared me. It didn’t really start until the emergence of Asughara or “The Beast Self.” Maybe I should just say that Asyghara scares me? But her perspective is so prevalent in the novel and is such a dark influence within Ada’s life experience in the book, it is often manipulative, harmful, and abusive, punctuated by a rare few moments where she actually does protect Ada, but that doesn’t outweigh the bad. But essentially a spirit having that much negative impact and control over Ada freaked me out in the same way that demon possession plots are just a thing I cannot do in movies and books. It just is too real and freaks me out (I realize this is a me problem, but I still wanted to mention it). 
That aside, the plot of the book was very well developed as it walked you through Ada’s life and with the perspectives of the Brothersisters and Asughara throughout. I do wish that we got St. Vincent’s POV as I felt that would have perhaps provided a better balance to Asughara’s chapters. The few times we get Ada and the “We” perspectives are always fascinating. 
This book explores a lot of Nigerian spirituality, both traditional and Christianised. The way that Yshwa (Jesus) is portrayed in the novel is interesting and definitely touching at points. He is woven throughout the novel as Ada works through her faith and her experiences clashing and rebuilding throughout her life. 
This is also a novel of genderfluidity. As the brothersisters inhabit Ada and exert their influence on her, she becomes more ogbanje than human, more they than she over the course of the story. 
From a mental health perspective there is /a lot/ to unpack. While the book is very specific to point out that the different ogbanje fronting for Ada are not different personalities (so this is /not/ DID or as it used to be known Multiple Personality Disorder), there is also a portion of the novel that talks about a “fracturing” of Ada’s memories after trauma and how the fractures are kept separate to help her cope. This second description is similar to one of the newer theories of DID, but it is explored only a little bit in the book, so there is not quite as much to go on and is definitely separate from the ogbanje. Also, most other things that would be mental illnesses or mental health concerns for Ada are almost always caused by the ogbanje (mostly Asughara), so it’s an interesting intertwining because Ada’s experiences are caused by such a complex inner world but have standard outward symptoms of various problems. 
Overall, this is an extremely well-written and thought provoking book. I’m still thinking about it. I read/watched about six reveiws before writing mine, specially trying to find some own-voices reviews to fill in some of my knowledge gaps and get some other views on the story. I really enjoyed the review by Uche Ezeudu on YouTube as she gave a Nigerian perspective on the story. 
While it is definitely bleak at times, particularly in the middle of the story, the ending makes it closer to empowering. If you want a book will make you think and take you in with beautiful, sharp writing, you should read this wonderful debut novel from Emezi.

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