Akwaeke Emezi's harrowing, challenging debut novel depicts its central character's struggle with mental illness through the lens of Nigerian folklore. The Ogbanje are a traditionally recognized cadre of "evil" spirits who invade Nigerian families in order to destroy them. In Freshwater, a collection of these spirits attach themselves to Ada, a young Nigerian immigrant, seducing her into a cycle of divine self-destruction.
After a traumatic incident in early childhood involving a poisonous snake, Ada finds she can communicate (not always voluntarily) with a host of spirits who have infiltrated her mind and self. Traveling to the U.S. to attend college, Ada is assaulted by a boyfriend. In response, a single entity named Asughara differentiates itself from the mass of others, and begins a kind of domineering, possessive romance with Ada. Like an abusive lover, Asughara coaxes and berates Ada into radical coping behaviors, demands sacrifices, and imposes strictures on Ada's human relationships. At the same time, Ada and Asughara become intimate friends, affirmations of one another -- two godlike creatures alone in the world of humans, caged and frustrated by their shared inability to exist in the full flower of their being.
It's only March, but I can already tell this is one of the best novels I'll read in 2018.I can't wait to see what this author does next.— From Devon
“A full and arresting examination of the search for a sense of belonging to one's self, Freshwater reads like the result of a successful dinner party hosted by Chimamanda Adichie, with a guest list featuring Octavia Butler, Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie, Helen Oyeyemi, and several preeminent cultural and sociological scholars. Freshwater follows Ada, a child born with 'a foot on the other side,' through her early life in Nigeria and her emigration to America, where she is trailed by many forces from the lands she left behind. It gives us new vocabulary and territories for exploring the awkwardness of intersections that we encounter - gender, culture, tradition, history, personal mythology - and how one might go about locating herself in the pull of so many competing influences.”
— Sarah Bumstead, Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, CA
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.