Akwaeke Emezi

Book - 2018

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 that illuminates how we all construct our identities. 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. Narrated from the perspective of the various selves within Ada, and based in the author's realities, Freshwater explores the metaphysics of identity and mental health, plunging the reader into the mystery of being and self. Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.

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FICTION/Emezi, Akwaeke
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1st Floor FICTION/Emezi, Akwaeke Due Jun 13, 2023
Autobiographical fiction
New York : Grove Press 2018.
First edition
Physical Description
229 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
Akwaeke Emezi (author)
Review by New York Times Review

Picture This: Scrolling through Pinterest one day, Tomi Adeyemi saw something that would change her life: "a digital illustration of a black girl with bright green hair." The image, which burrowed into her subconscious, "was so stunning and magical" that it inspired her to begin an epic fantasy trilogy that draws equally from current events and African culture. The first volume, "Children of Blood and Bone," which enters the Young Adult list at No. 1, "is an epic West African adventure," Adeyemi explains, "but layered within each page is an allegory for the modern black experience. Every obstacle my characters face, no matter how big or small, is tied to an obstacle black people are fighting today or have fought as recently as 30 years ago." Drawing Fire: Did you know that the United States Army has an artist-in-residence program? No? Neither did the novelist Brad Meitzer, who discovered it while he was filming an episode of his cable TV show, "Lost History," at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. "They were giving me a tour and showing me their art collection," he says. "I kept thinking, 'Why does the Army have all this art?' " Meitzer, an enthusiastic researcher, soon discovered that "since World War I, the Army has assigned at least one person - an actual artist - whom they send out in the field to, well... paint what couldn't otherwise be seen. They go, they see, and they paint and catalog victories and mistakes, from the dead on D-Day to the injured at Mogadishu." The idea for "The Escape Artist" - which debuts this week at No. 1 on the hardcover fiction list - soon sprang into his head. "Imagine an artistsoldier whose real skill was finding the weakness in anything. 'The Escape Artist' started right there," he says. Other research for the book sent Meitzer to Dover Air Force Base, which houses "the mortuary for the U.S. government's most top-secret and high-profile cases. I became obsessed with it. In this world, where so much of the government is a mess, Dover is the one place that does it absolutely right," Meitzer says. "It is the one no-fail mission in the military. When a soldier's body comes home, you don't mess it up." The most interesting thing he learned there, which he obviously incorporated into the novel, was also the oddest: "When your plane is going down and about to crash, if you write a farewell note and eat it, the liquids in your stomach can help the note survive the crash. It has really happened. Next time you're on a plane and hit turbulence, you're going to be thinking of me." ? 'Layered within each page is an allegory for the modern black experience.'

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [March 25, 2018] Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* It is not easy to corral traditional storytelling tropes into untraditional narrative formats without coming across as gimmicky or losing the reader along the way. In her mind-blowing debut, Emezi weaves a traditional Igbo myth that turns the well-worn narrative of mental illness on its head, and in doing so she has ensured a place on the literary-fiction landscape as a writer to watch. Ada, the protagonist, is a young Nigerian who never stood a chance. Right from birth, she has been controlled by evil ogbanje, spirits who mold a difficult child and who eventually create a young woman beset by multiple selves. Narrated by a chorus of the voices battling for control over Ada's mind, the novel brilliantly explores the young woman's slow descent into her own private hell. The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin, the voices say, hinting ominously at worse things to come. Emezi's brilliance lies not just in her expert handling of the conflicting voices in Ada's head but in delivering an entirely different perspective on just what it means to go slowly mad. Complex and dark, this novel will simultaneously challenge and reward lovers of literary fiction. A must-read.--Apte, Poornima Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Gods torment the young woman they inhabit in Emezi's enthralling, metaphysical debut novel. Ada has been occupied by a chorus of ogbanje-her "godly parasite with many heads"-since her birth, but it is only after she leaves Nigeria for a college in Virginia that the ogbanje begin to take over. The libidinous Asughara is the most forceful, emerging after a sexual assault has turned Ada into "a gibbering thing in a corner" to become "the weapon over the flesh" that will prevent her from being hurt again. Asughara guides Ada through a tormented love affair with an Irish tennis player that culminates in a marriage doomed by Asughara's overprotection. Divorced, Ada begins cutting her arm as she did in childhood, feeding the ogbanje with "the sacrifices that were necessary to keep" them quiet. But the bloodletting fails to quell their thirst to "go home"; Asughara is intent instead on freeing her ghastly cohort by manipulating Ada into suicide. Though some readers may find the correlation between mental illness and the ogbanje limiting, others will view this as a poetic and potent depiction of mental illness. Emezi's talent is undeniable. She brilliantly depicts the conflict raging in the "marble room" of Ada's psyche, resulting in an impressive debut. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Nigerian-born Emezi makes a double debut as both author and narrator of her auto-biographical first novel. As creator, she knows precisely how her story should flow, where emphasis is required, when to draw back, push forward, add breathing space. Her stand-in is Ada who, from birth, "was clear that she (the baby) was going to go mad." Within Ada's "weak bags of flesh" are "hatchlings, godlings, ogbanje"-sometimes peacefully coexisting, other times satiated only by savage takeover. Ada's troubled childhood in Nigeria is marked by outbursts her parents attempt to tame with the spiritual bindings of Catholicism. When she leaves home for a Virginia college, her fractured selves assert greater control; strongest of all is Asughara, whose insatiable demands for sex and violence push Ada further from sanity. Winner of the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, Emezi explained in a recent interview, "I wanted to... look at a life through the lens of a different reality-something that was centered more in Igbo spirituality than in Western concepts of mental health." The result is both shattering and mesmerizing. VERDICT Discerning patrons seeking outstanding world literature will demand access to Freshwater. ["A gorgeous, unsettling look into the human psyche, richly conceived yet accessible to all": LJ 11/15/17 starred review of the Grove hc.]-Terry Hong, Smithsonian -BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.