Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi [in Library Journal]
Nigerian-born Akwaeke Emezi makes a double debut as both author and narrator of her autobiographical 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.