Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Freshwater” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.99  ·  Rating details ·  7,016 ratings  ·  1,371 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
Paperback, UK Export edition, 226 pages
Published March 1st 2018 by Faber & Faber (first published February 13th 2018)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Freshwater, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Sally Whitmore think of the ogbanje as like bad spirits. I don't know if evil is the correct term...she's not posessed in the christian sense of how most people…morethink of the ogbanje as like bad spirits. I don't know if evil is the correct term...she's not posessed in the christian sense of how most people think....but I'd like to think of the ogbanje as dark aspects of her personality that are working to protect the innocent/good/pure version of Ada.

Farther along in the book they explain more how they got there or what they are doing wrong and a bit about these promises they've made.
It seems that there was some error with how the "gates" worked...when they were incarnated they forgot to close some aspect of the gates so they really understood that they weren't just Ada herself (that's my take on it).

But in all, the reader is never clued in to what the gates mean.(less)
Jo I found this a much easier read than The Famished Road ( which I've only gotten about half way through ). I found Freshwater to feel a lot more linear…moreI found this a much easier read than The Famished Road ( which I've only gotten about half way through ). I found Freshwater to feel a lot more linear ( oddly enough ) because it is also much more internally focused. I also found the story to be tighter. (less)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,016 ratings  ·  1,371 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Elyse Walters
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Navidad Thélamour
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2019
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.

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,
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
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 but
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
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
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
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: ei
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-lit
"“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 ac
Maddie C.
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
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
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2019
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
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
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
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
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
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
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Tudor Vlad
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc-publisher
Having been a follower of Akwaeke Emezi on Instagram for some time, I was thrilled to see she'd written a novel. I expected it to be a reflection of the beautiful images and energy she floods us with on her Instagram feed. My oh my - I had no idea this book would be the exact opposite.

The book's blurb does do a bit of foreshadowing by including phrases like: 'troubled baby,' 'source of deep concern to her parents,' 'volatile and splintered child,' 'something went terribly awry,' 'traumatic assa
This was an intense read on so many levels. It’s strange but in a way that makes (mostly) perfect sense. The many facets of a person. The inner characters that live inside all of us.

It is written in a completely unique and transformative way both contemporary and traditional. A real psychological analysis of a fractured individual being and the broken mind. How trauma can really fracture and consume a person. The inner dialogue that taunts and heals.

The book is steeped in surreal imagery, full
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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:
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review to come.....need to gather my thoughts about this one.

Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Gumble's Yard
Now longlisted for the Women's Prize 2019.

Ada wanted a reason, a better explanation. We were not enough. We were too strange, She had been raised by humans, medical ones at hat. So instead she read lists of diagnostic criteria, things like disruptions of identity, self-damaging impulsivity, emotional instability and mood swings, self mutilating behaviour and recurrent suicidal behaviour. I could have told her it was all me, even the last one. Especially the last one. Maybe all her research was
Paul Fulcher
No matter how mad it sounded, the things that were happening in my head were real and had been happening for a very long time. After all the doctors and the diagnoses and the hospitals, this thing of being an Ọgbanje, a child of Ala - that was the only path that brought me any peace.
My mother draws closer now. I can see a red road opening before me; the forest is green on either side and the sky is blue above it. The sun is hot on the back of my neck. The river is full of my scales. With each
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Bailey's/Orange W...: * April 2019 Freshwater 24 33 May 30, 2019 11:21PM  
Play Book Tag: Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi| 3.5/5 1 9 Apr 29, 2019 10:20PM  
The Mookse and th...: 2019 WP Longlist - Freshwater 29 61 Apr 29, 2019 08:57PM  
Play Book Tag: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi - 5 Stars and Favorite 6 25 Mar 20, 2019 04:52PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Born on a Tuesday
  • Aetherial Worlds: Stories
  • Folkets skønhed
  • Yabo
  • Kintu
  • The Quiet Violence of Dreams
  • Velsignelser
  • Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability
  • Dust
  • Arrows of Rain
  • The Old Drift
  • Under the Udala Trees
  • M Archive: After the End of the World
  • Fairytales for Lost Children
  • Augustown
  • America Is Not the Heart
  • Happiness
  • Eitthvað á stærð við alheiminn
See similar books…
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“Sometimes, you recognize truth because it destroys you for a bit.” 14 likes
“Understand this if you understand nothing: it is a powerful thing to be seen” 12 likes
More quotes…