cover image Freshwater


Akwaeke Emezi. Grove, $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2735-8

Gods torment the young woman they inhabit in Emezi’s enthralling, metaphysical debut novel. Ada has been occupied by a chorus of ogbanje—her “godly parasite with many heads”—since her birth, but it is only after she leaves Nigeria for a college in Virginia that the ogbanje begin to take over. The libidinous Asughara is the most forceful, emerging after a sexual assault has turned Ada into “a gibbering thing in a corner” to become “the weapon over the flesh” that will prevent her from being hurt again. Asughara guides Ada through a tormented love affair with an Irish tennis player that culminates in a marriage doomed by Asughara’s overprotection. Divorced, Ada begins cutting her arm as she did in childhood, feeding the ogbanje with “the sacrifices that were necessary to keep” them quiet. But the bloodletting fails to quell their thirst to “go home”; Asughara is intent instead on freeing her ghastly cohort by manipulating Ada into suicide. Though some readers may find the correlation between mental illness and the ogbanje limiting, others will view this as a poetic and potent depiction of mental illness. Emezi’s talent is undeniable. She brilliantly depicts the conflict raging in the “marble room” of Ada’s psyche, resulting in an impressive debut. (Feb.)