Freshwater — Akwaeke Emezi

A scorching, lyrical read about trauma, spirituality and finding yourself. It follows Ada from her birth in Nigeria to roughly her late twenties, grappling with love, pain and loss accompanied by a chorus of spirits inside her head.

The spirits are ogbanje, malevolent reincarnations according to Igbo religion. The narration switches throughout the book between some of the spirits and, occasionally, Ada herself. I struggled with the first few chapters, narrated by two of the ogbanje together, which is a bit clunky at points (at poings Emezi has to clarify exactly which “we” it is). But after a while I got used to it, and the pace quickly builds.

As events take place — seldom chronologically — the different spirits emerge and recede. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, they are a clever device for exploring Ada’s multiple selves (or, rather, all her composite parts).

There are some razor-sharp, beautiful moments — that the obganje create “isolated pockets of memory” to preserve Ada because “many things are better than a complete remembering”. Indeed, the fact that our experiences are constantly shaping and changing us is what the book deals with most powerfully and convincingly, through the vivid, surreal but ultimately convincing prism of a spirit world.

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