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4.03  ·  Rating details ·  18,071 ratings  ·  3,156 reviews
An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born "with one foot on the other side." Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one t ...more
Hardcover, 229 pages
Published February 13th 2018 by Grove Press
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Derick Ofodirinwa An Ogbanje is a reincarnating spirit that causes grief or pain. They're most often children that die stillborn, or children that die before they're ma…moreAn Ogbanje is a reincarnating spirit that causes grief or pain. They're most often children that die stillborn, or children that die before they're married (marriage in Igbo culture makes one 'complete'). This spirit comes through the mother over and over, torturing her and her family. This is the most common understanding.

Ogbanje that don't die the during infancy are believed to grow up to be very attractive and rebellious. Often troubled or troublesome children that will ultimately die early if measures aren't taken. Because of this, many rebellious or vain children are called 'ogbanje'. They're also 'special' children while alive, often having a higher level of spiritual intuition than others. Nobody really knows if a child is Ogbanje unless they pass, and there's a history of pre-mature death in the family.

I haven't read the book so I don't know how it's used in this context but that's the most 'cannon' definition I can give based on Igbo cosmology and thought. I do know that the protagonist is an Ogbanje and has multiple spirits communicating in her which is an interpretation I haven't heard before.
Uche Ogbuji I haven't read this, and I'm hoping the same as you, because even as a Nigerian, I found The Famished Road a frustrating read. If you'd like a novel w…moreI haven't read this, and I'm hoping the same as you, because even as a Nigerian, I found The Famished Road a frustrating read. If you'd like a novel with a much more digestible take related to the Ogbanje mythos while you wait on Freshwater, I highly recommend Helen Oyeyemi's "The Icarus Girl."(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  18,071 ratings  ·  3,156 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
When I got the depths of this novel, here during these dark hours, I was blown away! My eyes were misty at the end.
It’s absolutely the most brilliant creative book written of its kind ....
It became personal to me....looking back at my own journey- my own struggles - my own fight - my own growth - my own inner peace.

At one point I kept thinking,
“No wonder it’s soooo hard for people to get well”.
“No wonder people repeat the same repetitive unwanted behaviors for years”.

I don’t usually write revie
Felice Laverne
It’s not easy to persuade a human to end their life – they’re very attached to it, even when it makes them miserable, and Ada was no different. But it’s not the decision to cross back that’s difficult; it’s the crossing itself.

Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater is a novel of layers that do not always nicely overlap; in fact, the pieces often seem to not fit together at all. It is a novel born from trauma and emotional paroxysms, a read that erupts with them throughout. You have to peel back the layers t
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, recs
Forceful and harrowing, Freshwater follows Ada, a young Nigerian girl, as she comes of age while contending with multiple personalities and prolonged trauma. The nonlinear storyline tracks Ada as she endures a dysfunctional upbringing in Nigeria only to come into close contact with a series of violent men in America as a precocious college student; it's told from the perspective of a host of spirits called ogbanje, who occupy the protagonist's body and exert strong control over her actions. In l ...more
This was absolutely stunning. From the very first page I knew I was in for something extraordinary and unlike anything I have ever read. This debut combines many things I adore in books: unconventional framing and unreliable narrators, a story that gets recontextualized constantly and kept me on my toes, a basis in mythology that informed but did not over-shadow the actual story, perfect sentence structure that packs an unbelievable punch, and so many more things that I am still struggling to ad ...more
J.L.   Sutton
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“The world in my head has been far more real than the one outside—maybe that’s the exact definition of madness, come to think of it.”

<Image result for akwaeke emezi

For much of Akwaeke Emezi's Freshwater I didn't know what was happening, but it was absolutely amazing! As strange as it sounds, the book deals with suicide, self-harm, rape and the mental health of the main character, Ada, from a non-human centered perspective. Instead, it is narrated from the perspective of gods or spirit selves who merge with Ada after she is
Aug 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
fulfilling my 2019 goal to read (at least) one book each month that i bought in hardcover and put off reading long enough that it is now in paperback.

this is a fucking terrific book.

now that that’s out of the way: a brief digression with two lessons at its core. one for authors about how they should never let a ‘bad’ review discourage them, and one for readers about how sometimes the wrong book can lead you to the right one.

i recently read emezi’s soon-to-be-released YA novel Pet, which has got
To those of us
with one foot
on the other side."
“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 bu
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
4 fresh, imaginative stars to Freshwater! The most creative book I’ve read this year! 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

I have read nothing like Freshwater before. It is hard to categorize. It is literary fiction, but what else? Magical realism? Mysticism? The author noted at the end that this was her spiritual book, so I will go with spiritual literary fiction.

I went with the literal flow while I was reading. Freshwater could be murky, even incoherent, at times. Ada was born in Nigeria, a difficult baby with a “fractur
It's hard to talk about something that has no precedent. Freshwater is utterly unique, and the result is breathtaking. It's a dark, sensual, and thoughtful novel about a young woman coming to terms with and accepting the multiple identities that define her.

The details of Ada's life - raised in Nigeria, relocated to the U.S. for college - are only an elemental framework for what is ultimately an introspective story. The majority of this book is narrated by a chorus of Ada's selves - conceptualize
How to review this, how to review this............

The first 50 pages or so of this book were really tough for me. I felt like I was physically fighting the book, trying to wrestle it into submission. After the initial struggle, I fell into a somewhat uneasy rhythm with the story but I never quite managed to embrace it. I can appreciate it somewhat remotely as a very original and inspired work of art, but it stirs very little depth of feeling or emotion in me.

This seems to be an allegorical narr
Elle (ellexamines)
You must study the pattern of the shattering before you can piece it back together.

Freshwater is an exploration of how one must acknowledge the mixing of their realities to find peace with themselves. Following Ada, who has multiple gods contained within her, this brilliantly-written little novel goes into the point of view of first her younger gods, and then one specific god within her, Asugara.

So. I loved this book, from its engaging writing to its incredible character building. B
Jessica Woodbury
I did an unusual thing before writing this review, I looked at what other people have said about the book. Usually I like coming to a book without any advance knowledge and reviewing it without any awareness of its reception, but this time I was curious. It is a hard book to pin down, I was still trying to figure out which words I could use to describe it. It turns out that seeing the reviews helped. I saw many people calling this book "magical realism" and I knew right away that this was wrong, ...more
Aug 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-read, nigeria
Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019
"Freshwater" cleverly discusses the human mind by inquiring what actually constitutes "mental illness": To what degree is our inner fragmentation - the multitude of feelings and urges, the freedom to be many things - part of the human condition, and when does it become harmful and destructive? Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi employs African myths and Igbo spirituality in order to tell the story of Ada, who might suffer from bipolar disorder - or not.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: out-of-africa
"“The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.”

25 pages into this book, I was ready to DNF it. I told myself I'd stick with it until page 50 though I dreaded trudging my way through 25 more pages. Well!! By page 50 I was utterly entranced. Holy crap was this a good book! It is the story of Ada, a young Nigerian woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (though the book never diagnoses her). The story is told through her alter personalities, and is an
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A unique examination of painful adolescence

Freshwater is bewitching, bewildering and arresting in equal measure. The novel combines an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative style with the central conceit of the multiple narrators being spirits or deities that inhabit the protagonist's mind, forming a sort of plural identity. The result is an interesting perspective on a fractured sense of self. It is the reader's experience of this perspective, rather than the actual plot, that fuels the book
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
Freshwater is a stunning novel, one that I dove into and couldn't surface out of for a while. It's like a pool of dark water that you don't really even want to get out of. And I was sad when the book finished - despite it being quite a violent and shaking experience. I am not lying when I say I intend to read it again.

This review is quite long, so I suggest reading it on my blog.

This Story Is What You Make Of It

The most incredible aspect of Freshwater is that there are two ways to read it
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, modern-lit
Update 29/4/19 - I am disappointed that this missed the shortlist for the Women's Prize, and suspect the reason may have had more to do with doubt over the eligibility of the author than the quality of the book.

I have been a little reluctant to read this one, but its inclusion on the Women's Prize longlist gave it the push I needed, and I found it very impressive. Part of my reluctance is down to having read Ben Okri's The Famished Road last year - which has superficial similarities in that it i
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Still cementing my thoughts on this, but the long story short is: I didn't like this novel- the writing and execution. There was a lot more telling than showing with minimal buildup and character development.
My interest in this novel is rooted in being a follower of Akwaeke's social media platforms. So, I was beside myself with excitement when she announced its publication a while back. Earlier this year, I attempted to read Freshwater, but the few pages I read failed t
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Everything about Freshwater is entracing: the beautiful, strong and evocative writing, the visceral voice of the characters and the deep sense of “strangeness” (not in a odd way, but in a way that there is not many books like it) make the reading of it an experience that cannot be compared nor categorized fully. It sits somewhere between the realm of reality and the realm of the fantastic, I felt like it transported me to a limbo of uncertainty
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers who enjoy a lyrically written, otherwordly experience deeply rooted in igbo culture
Recommended to jade by: @enbybookclub
“earlier, when we said she went mad, we lied. she has always been sane. it’s just that she was contaminated with us, a godly parasite with many heads, roaring inside the marble room of her mind.”

this book emptied out my mind.

after finishing it, i went outside and stared into the greenery of my garden, contemplating my existence while the first chilly autumn breeze blew straight through my thoughts.

if that sounds dramatic, i’m really not trying to be; it’s just that freshwater is the
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Akwaeke Emezi’s debut is one of the most compelling—dare I say, bewitching—literary novels of recent years, largely a function of its incantatory prose and idiosyncratic narrative style. Its hero, Ada, is no mere mortal sufferer of multiple personalities but rather an Igbo deity struggling with incarnation. Who knew the novel form was porous enough—could be stretched enough—for such a story to roar through its gates?

My BookTube review:
I have been procrastinating upon writing this review for a few reasons. The main one being that I can't shake the feeling that not liking this says something about my inability to see things from the authors point of view, thus a failure for me as a reader. It is always a problem for me with books that have one leg based in autobiography and another in some spiritual realm. I am forever needing to know what really happened. Perhaps most detrimental to my appreciation was my general reluctance to ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was pulled in to this story (narrated by the author) of Ada, who is a gift from the (plural) Igbo serpent god to her parents for praying the right way. But because they were the child, the god(s) own her, and are always with her. There is a disturbing description of it at the beginning where they go inside the lining of her uterus, among other places. During a traumatic event, they take hold of Ada's body and then have the ability to completely take over when they want or need to. If she has s ...more
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc

If I had known this book was as evil, dark and sinful as it was, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to read it. But now that I’ve marinated the story in my mind for a while, I can confidently declare that Freshwater is so much more than it’s insane level of lust and blasphemy. Freshwater is a dark, layered tale based in and out of the spiritual realm, which focuses on how past traumas deeply affect one’s well-being and mental health... (the FULL review
Freshwater is the semi-autobiographical account of a young woman suffering from multiple personality disorder after a traumatic event. Steeped in Igbo tradition the main character Ada lives a life straddling two worlds. As the daughter of the serpent goddess Ala, she is born with “one foot on the other side” occupying the liminal spaces between the spirit realm and the flesh. What is the cause of her fractured self? Is she possessed or is she mad? What is reality? Can we accept both of these as ...more
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Freshwater is unlike anything I've ever read before. Because it lacks precedence (in my reading at least) it's really difficult to review. Needless to say, Emezi is an outstanding new talent. This novel, is exceptional, both in terms of the scope and ambition of the ideas it explores, and the originality of its expression. Freshwater is a dark narrative, one that is awash with intense feelings, passionate deeds, connection, and isolation. I can see that for some readers, this darkness and intens ...more
Tudor Vlad
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think that the best praise a book can get is having the reader think to himself “this is something that I have never read”, and this is what made Freshwater for me such an outstanding experience, the fact that I had no prior book that I could compare it to, it was completely new territory. It is also what makes it so damn hard to review, there are all these feelings mixed up in my mind and making sense of them is just as hard as it was for Ada to make sense of herself.

For starters, it is real
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unique, provocative, savage and supremely accomplished (especially for a debut). Contiguously a terse and pointedly flat narrative, clipped and angry and biliously cathartic, with lyrical, feverish, transcendental passages, in keeping with the central body/soul dichotomy. Very clever and compulsive and visceral.

“The Ada had liked being seen as a boy. She felt like it fit, or at least the misfit of it fit, the wrongness was right. She was perhaps eleven years old then. Her chest was flat, her hip
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a startlingly raw and dark novel about spirituality, abuse, trauma and mental illness. In this fresh perspective, debut novelist Akwaeke Emezi embeds ogbanje, or nonhuman entities, within Ada, a girl born to parents who had prayed to the God Ala for a daughter. Ala, a serpentine God, the judge and mother who holds the underworld in her belly grants the parents their wish. Thus, Ada (name meaning the egg of a python) is born to suffer the fate of having spirits reside inside of her. For a ...more
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