Book Review: Freshwater

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. Black stories matter. Freshwater is the first book that I read for my black lit challenge, which is a lifelong commitment to listen to and amplify black voices in literature. Freshwater tells the story of a volatile Nigerian woman, Ada, who is trying to make sense of her multiple personalities. After a traumatic experience in college, two of Ada’s personalities materialize and become more dominant, leading Ada to get lost in her mind and make increasingly risky decisions.

The book: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Genre: Literary fiction
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

It’s hard for me to review Freshwater because it was such a unique reading experience that nothing I say could possibly do it justice. The first part of the novel is told from the perspective of Nigerian ogbanje, or the spirits in Ada’s mind that cause her pain and grief. After Ada experiences a major trauma in college, two of these spirits materialize in Ada’s mind, and become distinct personalities that she calls Asughara and Saint Vincent. The remainder of the novel is mostly told from the perspective of Asughara. I absolutely loved this narrative style, because it resulted in a very nuanced, layered story. Every event that Ada experienced could be viewed from the perspective of Igbo folklore in which spirits manipulate the physical world, and through the lens of Western psychology in which one’s sense of self can fracture in response to trauma.

In addition to being wonderfully nuanced, Freshwater is beautifully written. Emezi’s prose is powerful, lyrical, and engrossing. It is also quite introspective, which results in Ada being portrayed in an immensely compassionate light. Sometimes it’s hard to empathize with characters who behave in startling and self-destructive ways, but Ada’s psyche is explored so deeply that it’s impossible to feel anything but compassion for her – all of her behavior makes sense in light of her complex psychological underpinnings.

This is a short review, but I don’t have much more to say about Freshwater. The combination of Igbo folklore with psychological introspection was so beautiful and fresh, resulting in one of the most striking and captivating novels I’ve ever read. I highly recommend this book, and can’t wait to read more of Emezi’s works.

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: Freshwater”

    1. Thank you!!! This is one of those books that was on my TBR forever – I’m glad I finally read it! And this is such an interestingly layered novel – I can see how it would be great for a re-read!

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  1. I really enjoy books that play with different types of storytelling, and this one sounds like an achievement. I read a lot of experimental books in grad school, but some were creative in form while others went down the path of sentences that don’t make sense with conventional English language rules. Those I just can’t get behind.

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  2. It struck me at the beginning that you called your black lit reading challenge “a lifelong commitment to listen to and amplify black voices in literature”. When the news of Floyd’s murder and the police brutality came up, and when people started advocating for it online by changing their DPs on social media and whatnot, I was pretty hesitant to join in by doing a black lit reading challenge because I didn’t want to seem like I was just performing activism simply since it’s trending. But your framing of it as a lifelong commitment made me reconsider that I won’t be doing it just for the sake of ‘trendiness’β€”it’s really a lifelong quest. πŸ™‚ Wow, that was so wordy but thank you for that!

    Anyway, nuanced psychological introspection is my jam and the incorporation of folklore is a huge bonus, and now I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of this!

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