Bibliophile | Akwaeke Emezi explores the sprits within in Freshwater

by Akwaeke Emezi
Allen & Unwin
Ada was born in Nigeria where her mother Saachi was a nurse and her father Saul a doctor. Author Akwaeke Emezi, who was also born in Nigeria, inhabits Ada as she goes from foetus through the birth process and then as she grows up. Overlaid with Igbo, Tamil and Christian mysticism, this extremely powerful story of Ada’s life is told mainly by the voices of the spirits inside her that would grow to govern her adult life.
Although they lay curled and inactive inside her, she could feel the unsettling their mere presence caused. Like Emezi, Ada eventually goes to university in America where the “godly parasite with many heads” wakes up, its hunger demanding blood and self-harming to keep all the spirits happy.
“When you name something, it comes into existence” and trauma forces the spirit Asughara to take over Ada’s body to protect her. “I had arrived and I was so deep inside her, locked into her flesh, moving her muscles. Suddenly she had to share with something she couldn’t control. I understood, but at the same time, it wasn’t my problem.”
As more spirits layer her personality, the world in her head seems more real than the world outside. Sometimes Ada wonders how she could even exist without the mischief makers who didn’t give a shit about humans and enjoyed causing pain. Keeping the spirits in a marble room inside her head, Ada knows if she told anyone about them, she would have been told that they weren’t real and that she was crazy.
So she kept away from “doctors and diagnoses and the medications they surely would’ve shoved into Ada if they saw exactly what her mind looked like”. Ada realises that the ‘beastself’ is the only buffer between her and madness and the alternate selves protected her. She also comes to the realisation that the only way to escape the spirits that controlled her is a fatal one.
Based on the author’s experiences, this brilliantly fierce narrative is scarily real to those who have spiraled into darkness and lost their real selves. “The Ada was living in multiple realities at once, floating loosely between them, forgetting what each felt like as soon as she moved to a new one.” The tension is almost unbearable as the reader wonders if the real Ada will continue to live in the shadows or come out into the light, and whether she will be able to survive if she does.
Lezly Herbert


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