Freshwater – the Fount of Mind, Body, and Soul

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Now, please step into Well-Read’s Corner and enjoy.

Obanje – Children that come and go

It’s hard to begin this blog as in order to speak on this book, we would have to delve into the personal nature of it and how closely it rings to real-world experiences had by our crew, despite its fantastical nature. We could barely decide who should present it as it touched each of us in some form so intimately. However, it was officially decided that it would fall to me as I believe I can keep some clarity in the dark fever dream that is this book. I can’t guarantee this though…

After all, Akwaeke Emezi’s story… is also ours…

Welcome to my little corner. I’m Well-Read and I present to you.

Image by Rog Walker

Akwaeke Emezi in all their gloriousness. Their energy is something we strive for around here.

A general summary is that Freshwater tells a chapter out of the life of The Ada and the two-headed snake god that inhabits her body. It uses a magical realism approach to dealing with alienation, trauma, and mental illness all in the span of the young adult life of Ada. Honestly, it is one of the rockier rides we’ve taken in traversing worlds.

The Ada – as she is called in the book – begins as a newborn, unknowingly housing an Obanje – that is, a child that is reborn many times and sometimes brings great misfortune with them. It comes in what can best be described as stages of grief in which the god residing in Ada’s head must accept Ada as her own person rather than control her. The journey to reconciling this situation sees Ada through much horror and hurt throughout her life both externally and internally. These horrors shape both the Ada and the gods in her head causing them to properly split – one male and one female. The three of them gnaw and pinch and tear at each other through Ada’s rape, her self-destruction, her seeking of help, and eventually attempted suicide. It becomes clear that something must give and this is the realization and understanding that each other need each other rather than need to put up with each other. In order to be safe, healthy, and live, none can rule over the other. This begins a slow journey of self-discovery that places Ada in tune with her body first through gender transition and the acceptance of her nonbinary identity as well as a solid alliance between her and them so that they all may inhabit the body in comfort.

Now, admittedly, that is definitely a more simplistic interpretation of the events of this book. This is because Freshwater is a tale that can barely be discussed without spoiling it and its symbols. I certainly want everyone to experience it as blindly as possible as this is crucial to its effect. Ada’s tale is one that is made unique by individual interpretation. What rings true and what rings false and what rings as absolutely batshit.

Between Asughara (the female god who embodies the rage and hurt of the Ada), St Vincent (the male god who embodies the Ada’s gender and masculine desires),  and the Ada, you are given such a personally visceral story of learning to accept your traumas, learning to accept your destructiveness as it is and coping with it, and most importantly, learning that mental illness doesn’t just end, but rather you must make a kind of peace with it that allows you to healthily deal with it in your own way. It felt so much like reading our own story and felt like being reached out to. It did so in such a way that allowed for the often-overlooked understanding of personal horrors and the fact that they do not just disappear with love, support, or even changing your body. Despite those things helping, what aids most in the sort of healing Ada and admittedly we needed on our end was an acceptance that these things are who we are now and that they can shift and flow and change. It cannot be understated how relatable Asughara was, especially as she was only allowed to be born as an individual through Ada’s intense trauma. The faux posturing and need to hurt everyone as she was hurt. Asughara inhabited Ada’s body becoming the fury and vengeance most believe they want – even fictionally – and showing the spiral of pure self-destruction thus transforming herself into the most heartbreaking aspect of the novel. It is a hard-lesson-learned that she cannot be expelled nor repressed, but compromised and handled with care so that the Ada can thrive.

The most upsetting aspect of this –this is purely my opinion but Ashmodai agrees — is the passive nature of St Vincent. The male trapped in Ada’s body represents the repression of her nonbinary gender identity and the dysphoria that reacts poorly with Ada’s mental illness. The way he must only exist in pure fantasy because realizing him fully is something Ada could not do marked hard on all of us, especially the Creator who themselves is agender. My sense of fashion has always been neutral to defeminize my body, however, I currently cannot change my body’s shape and have no desire to – much like the Ada. Yet Ada finds compromise that allows Vincent to the forefront in breast reduction and binding so that he may thrive freely and thus allows Ada to exist as her truest self.

Despite the profoundness of two gods inhabiting the body of one human being, Ada is the soul of Freshwater. The proverbial “care” that people look for is not the excising of mental illness nor of the traumas that exacerbate them. It is the allowances, boundaries, and line of communications she was willing to make for the betterment of her mind, body, soul. Ada allowed Asughara out to exercise her need for sex and violence through BDSM and casual hookups. Ada got minor surgery and dressed more masculinely to heal St. Vincent’s dysphoria and allowed him to step into her body. Both gods compromise on their control of the Ada for the sake of her mental and physical health and thus they find a sort of synergy. Honestly, the struggle between gender identity and major mental illness is never really explored, to begin with. It’s always a subject others avoid on the risk of having their identity invalidated or their mental illness not taken seriously. This gave a truer representation of the juxtaposition between mental health and gender identity than many of us are used to. Most are either inaccurate or show how bad it can get that it nearly seems hopeless. Freshwater shows how bad it can get, but it slowly climbs its way up from that darkness and shows that all the horror can be worked with and evolved past through understanding not working against it. That sometimes the best cure is the acceptance that there is none and compromises can be made in the path of getting better.

This was an important aspect that – laced in the beautiful yet simple arrangement of Emezi’s dreamlike writing, provided a catharsis none of us, including the creator, realized we ever needed. The absolutely stunning and haunting events that lead Ada to become the person they are with Asughara and St. Vincent – that is the unions of passion, pain, and perseverance, are well worth reading and rereading. I dare say it’s even worthy of further study in its symbolism, metaphors, and questions of reality. It may be one I revisit at some point if given the opportunity. Suffice to say, Freshwater is now officially one of my favorite universes I have visited and because of that, I beg you to explore it as well and perhaps find yourself within it.

Oh right! Here comes the assignment portion!

In freshwater, names are especially important. They outline where we start and where we end. Ada evolves the names of the two-headed snake god through the story until they take on lives of their own. So, tell me. If you had two other entities dwelling within you, what would their names be? What would they represent? How would they behave?

This has been Well-Read and thank you for spending this time with me in my little corner. Don’t forget to like this post and share it with others who may be interested in Emezi’s work. If you want to continue the conversation, consider joining the Shoal – the Spilled Ink official discord linked below.

3 thoughts on “Freshwater – the Fount of Mind, Body, and Soul

  1. Lovely review. It sounds like a really interesting, very heavy, and powerful book 🖤 I’m not sure what my two creatures would be. Maybe sloth and passion as I am in a constant battle with my own willpower.


  2. Enjoyed the review. I adored this book. Writing is beautiful, and it’s such an emotional experience. This reminded me that I want to own a copy.


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