FRESHWATER

Book-of-Formation.jpg

FRESHWATER, BY AKWAEKE EMEZI

Ada is born the daughter of a human, the daughter of a god, and the vessel of ogbanje. Although the novel opens with her birth and follows her through childhood, this narrative isn’t concerned with telling a linear story. It focuses instead on the story of spiritual self-knowing, the cracks and fissures, the symmetry and splintering. Because Ada is also others, the narrative splits into chapters, some narrated by a “We,” some by Asughara, and some by Ada herself—each with their separate ideas and interpretations of events. The bulk of the story is spent in Ada’s early adult years, after a traumatic experience initiates the birth of a new voice within her—Asughara. Where Ada is quiet and religiously troubled, Asughara steps in to protect her, by using her body for sex and power. What follows is a long dialogue between these two voices within one body as they struggle to understand one another, and to reconcile their separate existences in the heart-darkness and betrayals of the world around them, moving from Umuahia to Virginia to Brooklyn.

What is stunning about Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel Freshwater is its bold, unwavering testament to the queer body. It opens doors to an identity that is inherently metaphysical, that cannot be neatly boxed into a hegemonic culture. Emezi writes with palpable urgency her testament to being and braving a body that resists Western binaries and scientific analysis, and that sometimes resists its own being. Freshwater brings us to these uncomfortable, bodiless spaces, reminding us that “the space between life and death is resurrection. It has a smell like a broken mango leaf, sharp, sticking to the inner rind of our skin.”

Grove Atlantic.

—Review by Joy Clark