Contemporary, Literary Fiction

Review: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

A story that combines magical realism with mental health to define what it means to be sane.


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I first heard about this book from fellow blogger Evelina from Avalinah’s Books. She had a raving review for this book and since our tastes are similar, I was eager to try this one out! You can check out her review here, but these are my thoughts:

Freshwater book cover book cover

Freshwater

by Akwaeke Emezi

Published January 13, 2018 by Grove Press
ISBN: 0802127355

Data from Goodreads

Summary (Goodreads): Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves–now protective, now hedonistic–move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

My Review

I’m going to start off by giving a trigger warning for (Click to reveal spoiler) rape, suicide, mental health and violence.

This book is one of the most unique novels I have ever read, with its blend of mythology and mental health. In her review, Evelina mentioned that this book can be read either as magical realism or as “stark naked reality.” While Evelina looked at it from the former, I went at it from the latter!

The Pros: What worked for me

  • This novel takes a very fresh approach to mental illness, defining it by the spirit world rather than by scientific reasoning. This novel centers around (Click to reveal spoiler) multiple personality disorder: what if instead of it being just looked at as a mental illness, it is seen as a possession of the body by multiple spirits? In this way, the author has created multiple chapters that rotate through different personalities within Ada’s body, with each personality emerging during a different point of time in Ada’s life. And these personalities are not human, they are mythological forces with great power – they are gods.. The author has used mythology and folklore as a platform for speaking about mental health in an effective manner such that readers get a different take on something so clinical.
  • I love the way the author divided the chapters, giving each perspective its own time to shine. The writing itself was very lyrical and I was drawn into the story completely.
  • I love how this novel, through its declarations of what it means to be sane, constantly challenges the reader’s understanding of sanity and mental health.
  • Even though the story is not told in her voice, I was still able to connect and understand Ada.

In short, this book was a remarkable experience that blends magical realism with mental illness. It is a book I would recommend to anyone and for those reasons, I’m giving it 5/5 stars. Major shoutout to Evelina for bringing this book to my attention through her amazing blog (link to her review is at the top of this post)!

3 thoughts on “Review: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

  1. Wonderful review! I enjoyed this one, too, and exactly what you said – it offered a different perspective and insight on multiple personality disorder. Beautifully, creatively written.

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