I started reading Freshwater on the first day of my vacation and felt completely gripped by the book. I think it is true to say that this is one of the most unique books that I have read in a while. Akwaeke explores heavy themes like identity, depression, suicide and self-harm vividly by providing a candid look inside the mind of the protagonist (Ada).
Having followed Akwaeke’s journey (and their wonderful small sister, Yagazie) prior to the book release, I already had some awareness of the potentially autobiographical aspects of Freshwater*. This added to the urgency I felt reading the book and willing Ada to pull through and find a way to make peace with all her identities. Asughara, Saint Vincent and all the myriad of entities that occupy Ada’s marble space in her mind all feel fleshed out like real characters that you can understand and empathise with even as you witness the torment that Ada is put through.
I loved how the author integrated Igbo culture with the themes of mental health issues. Too often, African spirituality and mythology has been relegated condescendingly by the lens of the Western gaze as simply juju or witchcraft practised by ‘savages’. Freshwater is brazen in the way it regards Igbo deities and mythology with the seriousness that is so rarely seen in literature.
This was a strong and fascinating debut for Akwaeke and I look forward to consuming more of their work.
*Read Akwaeke’s essay in New York’s The Cut here