Greetings, readers! My name is Sareeta Domingo, and I’m an author and fiction editor. It’s my great pleasure to be bringing you a Book of the Week, each week here on Morning Mari.
In the last few days I read an incredible novel that I’ve had near the top of my to-be-read pile for a long time, and instantly I knew it had to be my Book of the Week selection this week—Freshwater by Nigerean author Akwaeke Emezi.
The book is a stunningly unique auto-fiction closely based on the author’s own life. It tells the story of Ada, a child whose experience of the world is narrated from the perspectives of the gods or sprits who reside within her. Ada is described as an ogbanje, a term within Igbo culture that describes a spirit that is reincarnated repeatedly in the form of a troubled child—though that doesn’t encapsulate the whole story. We follow Ada’s life from a tumultuous childhood through to a young womanhood that is marred by sexual assault, and on into an adulthood plagued by self-harm and rootlessness.
But rather than a traditional narrative, Ada’s story is told sometimes by the collective ‘we’ of all the spirits residing inside her, and sometimes taken over by the more sexual spirit of Asughara, or the nurturing spirit known as Saint Vincent. These multitudinous ‘selves’ are in dialogue within Ada’s mind and can control her body, but ultimately the story is one that explores and challenges notions of physical and spiritual existence.
As the novel comes to its conclusion, we see Ada come into a self-acceptance that rejects binaries of gender and the confines of the body, in much the same way that the author identifies as transgender, non-binary and non-human. As they write at the book’s conclusion: ‘It was difficult to accept not being human but still being contained in a human body… Ogbanje are as liminal as is possible—spirit and human, both and neither.’ The book is a stunning examination of what it means to come to terms with existing in that powerful realm in between. And that is why Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi is my Book of the Week this week.