Growing up on Nollywood films and neighbourhood gossip circa 1980’s Nigeria, an ogbanje signified many things- a spirit child, trouble, trials and tribulations, but relatable never featured in any of those lists. So when a publisher sends you a book to review about an ogbanje, quite a few thoughts will run through your mind. If I’m quite honest, I was drawn to the book because, like many people, I’m a big fan of the Emezi sisters and have always found the one called Akwaeke quite interesting, not least because she fondly calls herself the ‘opulent ogbanje’. Now I’m quite open minded, a lot of Nigerians might struggle with the concept of reading or even talking about what was essentially (in the past anyways) a taboo subject. A Nigerian friend gave me a weird look when I told her what the book was about.
But Freshwater is nothing like what I had imagined. Granted, it’s nothing like any other book (that I’ve ever read) period.
Ada, the heroine of the novel, is a young Nigerian woman who develops separate selves – Asụghara and Saint Vincent – within her. These volatile and contradictory voices follow her from childhood in Nigeria to college in America, and are violently awakened following a sexual assault Ada suffers on a US campus.
Freshwater explores the sense of self and identity from a whole different dimension and casts a much needed light on the boundaries between human interaction (or connection) with the subconscious and the spiritual in a way that is pretty quite remarkable. If you’ve ever felt like you have multiple personalities but have never been confident enough to voice that out, you’re clearly not alone if this book is anything to go by.
Exploring well known themes from childhood to adulthood such as rape, mental health and gender fluidity with spiritual undertones, inspired by the author’s own experiences, Freshwater will make you question everything you know (or think you know) about being human.
What makes it even more enjoyable is the sense of humour infused in what could sometimes be a fraught conflict between multiple identities, showing even more the subject, Ada’s unrelenting resilience in the face of hardship.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi is out now.
£10.00 hardback / £6.99 ebook