In Akwaeke Emezi’s novel, we follow Ada our protagonist in this story across the world from her birth home Umuahia. She suffered fits in her childhood and they manifest differently when she travels to America for college. It is this time that she encounters something so traumatic that it “births” something powerful in her. She develops personalities that accompany her on a dangerous journey that could either destroy her or save her – or even both.
Akwaeke Emezi explores themes of identity – psychological, cultural and personal. This tour de force rides on Ada’s internal conflicts. Her life experiences trigger different personalities to deal with each one. She strives for integration and find herself but must first unlearn what she has been taught. Her journey is documented through third-person narration, monologues and heart felt dialogues with Yshwa, her adopted god.
Through the adept use of Igbo mythology, Akwaeke takes us on a journey with her through the eyes of Ada, Asughara and St. Vincent, alters of Ala, goddess of the earth. Some of the imagery used in their descriptions would even familiar to the someone who isn’t Igbo or African. You only need to catch up on some reading with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Ben Okri’s Famished Road. I should revisit Famished Road later this year – I digress.
Imagery in this novel is stark, starting with the memorable “house with shell-blue walls” recollected in moments of Ada’s nostalgia or as reference point in her soul searching. The characters in the novel are also memorable but most memorable would be Asughara, the ogbanje in Ada – one of her alters. She is vindictive but protective at the same time, protecting Ada from the violence dealt to her by men.
The men in this novel were unimpressive and merciless. Surprisingly, Chima, Ada’s brother was relegated to the shadows. He is seen to have done even more harm albeit unwittingly when more light was shed on his role in Ada’s life journey as it was revealed that a friend that he had invited while they were children had molested Ada. The last chapter of the novel, Nzoputa (Salvation) introduced us to a different type of man, a meta kin (fellow ogbanje) of Ada’s who for once treated Ada right and even counseled her to choose salvation by finding herself.
In Chapter Four lies my favourite line:
And while he loves human (he was born of one, lived and died as one), what they forget is that he loves them as a god does, which is to say, with a taste for suffering.
I’ve watched a few YouTube book reviewers struggle with the ending of this novel about how inconclusive it reads but I’ve found it to be conclusive enough to leave rumblings after the back-cover settles (if you read the ebook as I did, it would be that this lingers after the last page fades).
It is a courageous book that stirs something inside you. To reflection: On every voice that has whispered inside you. I found Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi to be deeply refreshing and just as soon becomes my favourite ogbanje.