Cover image for Freshwater
Emezi, Akwaeke, author.

Personal Author:
First hardcover edition.
Physical Description:
229 pages ; 22 cm.
General Note:
Details may vary.
An extraordinary debut novel exploring the metaphysics of identity and mental health, centering on a young Nigerian woman as she struggles to reconcile the proliferation of multiple selves within her.


Call Number
Material Type
Corning - Southeast Steuben County Library 1 FIC EME New books
Cuba Circulating Library Association 1 FIC EME Adult Fiction Book
Montour Falls Memorial Library 1 FICTION Adult Fiction Book
Wayland Free Library 1 FICTION EME New books

On Order



A National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" Honoree
Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

One of the most anticipated and best reviewed novels of 2018, Freshwater is the remarkable debut of an astonishing young writer.

Ada has always been unusual. As an infant in southern Nigeria, she is a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but something must have gone awry, as the young Ada becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief. 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 intothe background of her own mind and these alters--now protective, now hedonistic--move into control, Ada's life spirals in a dangerous direction. Unsettling, heart-wrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.

Author Notes

Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer and artist based in liminal spaces. Born and raised in Nigeria, they received their MPA from New York University and was awarded a 2015 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship. They won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. Their work has been published in various literary magazines, including Granta . Freshwater is their debut novel.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* It is not easy to corral traditional storytelling tropes into untraditional narrative formats without coming across as gimmicky or losing the reader along the way. In her mind-blowing debut, Emezi weaves a traditional Igbo myth that turns the well-worn narrative of mental illness on its head, and in doing so she has ensured a place on the literary-fiction landscape as a writer to watch. Ada, the protagonist, is a young Nigerian who never stood a chance. Right from birth, she has been controlled by evil ogbanje, spirits who mold a difficult child and who eventually create a young woman beset by multiple selves. Narrated by a chorus of the voices battling for control over Ada's mind, the novel brilliantly explores the young woman's slow descent into her own private hell. The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin, the voices say, hinting ominously at worse things to come. Emezi's brilliance lies not just in her expert handling of the conflicting voices in Ada's head but in delivering an entirely different perspective on just what it means to go slowly mad. Complex and dark, this novel will simultaneously challenge and reward lovers of literary fiction. A must-read.--Apte, Poornima Copyright 2017 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Gods torment the young woman they inhabit in Emezi's enthralling, metaphysical debut novel. Ada has been occupied by a chorus of ogbanje-her "godly parasite with many heads"-since her birth, but it is only after she leaves Nigeria for a college in Virginia that the ogbanje begin to take over. The libidinous Asughara is the most forceful, emerging after a sexual assault has turned Ada into "a gibbering thing in a corner" to become "the weapon over the flesh" that will prevent her from being hurt again. Asughara guides Ada through a tormented love affair with an Irish tennis player that culminates in a marriage doomed by Asughara's overprotection. Divorced, Ada begins cutting her arm as she did in childhood, feeding the ogbanje with "the sacrifices that were necessary to keep" them quiet. But the bloodletting fails to quell their thirst to "go home"; Asughara is intent instead on freeing her ghastly cohort by manipulating Ada into suicide. Though some readers may find the correlation between mental illness and the ogbanje limiting, others will view this as a poetic and potent depiction of mental illness. Emezi's talent is undeniable. She brilliantly depicts the conflict raging in the "marble room" of Ada's psyche, resulting in an impressive debut. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Nigerian-born Emezi makes a double debut as both author and narrator of her auto-biographical first novel. As creator, she knows precisely how her story should flow, where emphasis is required, when to draw back, push forward, add breathing space. Her stand-in is Ada who, from birth, "was clear that she (the baby) was going to go mad." Within Ada's "weak bags of flesh" are "hatchlings, godlings, ogbanje"-sometimes peacefully coexisting, other times satiated only by savage takeover. Ada's troubled childhood in Nigeria is marked by outbursts her parents attempt to tame with the spiritual bindings of Catholicism. When she leaves home for a Virginia college, her fractured selves assert greater control; strongest of all is Asughara, whose insatiable demands for sex and violence push Ada further from sanity. Winner of the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, Emezi explained in a recent interview, "I wanted to... look at a life through the lens of a different reality-something that was centered more in Igbo spirituality than in Western concepts of mental health." The result is both shattering and mesmerizing. VERDICT Discerning patrons seeking outstanding world literature will demand access to Freshwater. ["A gorgeous, unsettling look into the human psyche, richly conceived yet accessible to all": LJ 11/15/17 starred review of the Grove hc.]-Terry Hong, Smithsonian -BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



We came from somewhere--everything does. When the transition is made from spirit to flesh, the gates are meant to be closed. It's a kindness. It would be cruel not to. Perhaps the gods forgot; they can be absentminded like that. Not maliciously--at least, not usually. But these are gods, after all, and they don't care about what happens to flesh, mostly because it is so slow and boring, unfamiliar and coarse. They don't pay much attention to it, except when it is collected, organized and souled. By the time she (our body) struggled out into the world, slick and louder than a village of storms, the gates were left open. We should have been anchored in her by then, asleep inside her membranes and synched with her mind. That would have been the safest way. But since the gates were open, not closed against remembrance, we became confused. We were at once old and newborn. We were her and yet not. We were not conscious but we were alive--in fact, the main problem was that we were a distinct we instead of being fully and just her . So there she was: a fat baby with thick, wet black hair. And there we were, infants in this world, blind and hungry, partly clinging to her flesh and the rest of us trailing behind in streams, through the open gates. We've always wanted to think that it was a careless thing the gods did, rather than a deliberate neglect. But what we think barely matters, even being who we are to them: their child. Excerpted from Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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