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We Chit Chat: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

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“It’s not easy to persuade a human to end their life – they’re very attached to it, even when it makes them miserable, and Ada was no different. But it’s not the decision to cross back that’s difficult; it’s the crossing itself.”

Leggy: Soooo we’re finally done reading this book. How was it for you?

Taynement: I honestly don’t know how to categorize it. I think it was a lot. It took me a long time to get through it. I guess I’ll say it felt like sitting in on someone’s therapy session.

Leggy: Yeah, it was a lot. A little too much at times, what did you think of the book itself?

Taynement: I honestly don’t know how I felt. I don’t know that I enjoyed it much. It felt like a chore. But on the other hand, when I think back on it I can appreciate her writing style.

Leggy: I think with books like this, less is more. A lot of the writing was just absolutely beautiful but at times it was way too much and felt over written. I could tell it was her first book and it was almost like she was trying to prove how well she can turn a phrase or paint a picture with words. Don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic when it worked and I loved so many lines but at some point, I don’t need a metaphor or pretty line for every god damn thing.

Taynement: It really took me a minute to identify all the characters and the speaking in third person.

Leggy: What does Asughara mean? I kept trying to figure out what it means in Igbo but I couldn’t. Every other thing made sense to me in Igbo apart from that name. Maybe it’s a dialect.

Taynement: No idea. I never tried to figure out meanings. I thought of the names as just names. The only one I took interest in was Saint Vincent because that’s the name of a musician that identifies as gay in real life. So I was wondering if it was a name she took from her or if it was coincidental.

Leggy: I was actually taken aback by that name because every other thing felt very Igbo and traditional and here comes Saint Vincent.

Taynement: So what were your thoughts on this story?

Leggy: It was a fascinating story. Also it felt and read very autobiographical. I’ve been following the author for a long time and I felt like a lot of the things that happened in the book were very biographical and makes me wonder if this is how she sees herself. I’m also very fascinated by the ogbanje myth. My mum is an only child and that word got thrown around her because she was the only child of her parents that survived childhood. I enjoyed the explanation of mental health through Igbo mythology, so I’ll give it that.

Taynement: That’s the other thing I was going to note, I think there are different ways to ingest this book. Someone like me, I’m new to the author and knew next to nothing about her so it was eye opening and everything was new to me. It wasn’t until I was doing a deep dive on her that I saw her sister’s scar and realised the book was probably autobiographical and also, her article on her breast reduction too. I enjoyed her writing style the most and the fearlessness. I feel like she laid everything on the line and was open because there were ugly things people would be afraid to share. But she didn’t shy away from them.

Leggy: Yeah, I think maybe that’s why this book was easier for me to digest? I’ve known the author from afar in real life and I’d heard all these stories before. I knew when she got married or almost got married to an Irish guy in real life. Absolutely, it was brave to share these things and I like that she kept the focus on herself.

Taynement: My favorite chapter was chapter 19 when she spoke from Ada’s point of view. It was very raw and honest.

Leggy: Oh, did you like her description of Jesus? – “He hears every prayer babbled, screamed, sung at him. He does not, contrary to some belief, often answer them…and while He loves humans (He was born of one, lived and died as one), what they forget is that he loves them as a god does, which is to say, with a taste for suffering”

Taynement: Yes, I did. It really provided a different point of view on things.

Leggy: What did you not like about the book?

Taynement: I think what I didn’t like was that there was a lot of hop, skip and jump. Like from nowhere she skipped from straight to gay, we didn’t get enough information on the bridge and then the non binary seemed to come out of nowhere.

Leggy: Yes, sometimes you could tell the whole “us”, “we”, “asughara” concept was running away from her, like she couldn’t hold them all together and make the concept cohesive. Also, Saint Vincent was such a bullshit character, we didn’t get as much background on him like we got on the other “gods”? It was just like “oh we stepped back and let Saint Vincent do his thing and bam! she’s dating girls”

Taynement: Then the mention of her being molested by her neighbour and her neighbour’s dad was so random. So yeah, that was my gripe with the book, there were lots of unconnected dots.

Leggy: That information belonged at the beginning and not the end of the book. I felt that way too, but I loved the slow dissolution of her parents’ marriage. There’s something uniquely Nigerian about that. I love when she said – it was interesting for us to watch, how he didn’t even have to go anywhere in order to leave her. I think that’s basically the story of a lot of Nigerian marriages.

Taynement: Yeah, I felt for her mum especially making the decision she had to because they ran out of money and her husband’s hospital wasn’t doing well. I wonder if the Itohan brothers story is true and if so, are the “gods” an excuse for doing whatever she wanted and trying to screw two brothers?

Leggy: Yeah, I feel like her mother got dealt such a bad card in life. Also, even before she moved to America she went back to Nigeria and tried to convince him to come with her but his typical Nigerian man ego said no. I wondered a lot about that too, a lot of the narrative in this book kinda felt like a way to avoid taking responsibility for being a shitty person sometimes? I mean, I’m pretty sure her mental health state had a lot to do with her decisions which I absolutely empathize with but still, YOU made those decisions.

Taynement: Oh and going back to the ogbanje bit, as a middle child with a younger sister, how does that theory hold up?

Leggy: I don’t think she fits the mold to be an ogbanje. Unless I missed it, her mother never had a child who died did she? I thought that was the accurate way to determine an ogbanje – if children before you have died repeatedly then it’s concluded that it’s the same child that keeps coming to earth over and over again and the eventual child that stays is marked so that if he/she dies again and comes back to earth, he/she would be recognised as an ogbanje.

Taynement: So I wonder if that ogbanje concept was an entryway for the non nigerian audience because if nothing else, this book was unapologetically Nigerian.

Leggy: I’m sure they’ll eat this up. Honestly, this is a fascinating topic and I’m Nigerian. Can’t imagine reading this as an outsider, I’d feel even more fascinated. Also, I think I did college wrong because the characters she met and was exposed to? Especially as an international student from Nigeria? I was like dang.

Taynement: She got the full college experience, good for her. Overall, I find myself conflicted by this book. I know I definitely didn’t enjoy reading it, I wasn’t fascinated and it didn’t grip me BUT I was totally appreciative of the style in which it was presented, it is something different.

Leggy: I agree with you. This book is only 229 pages. It should not have been this difficult to get through it or taken this long. This should have been a couple of hours read for me. It had a lot of layers that did not overlap nicely or fit into a cohesive unit. It was a tad over written and metaphor heavy but I appreciated the beautiful language. I highlighted so much on my kindle.

I think an editor should have done a better job of making this book better in terms of continuity and narrative. A lot of things were just dumped into the narrative with no build up or explanation, just told to us and kept moving right on. But I really look forward to reading what else she has up her sleeve. I’m hoping this time it won’t be biographical at all. I think it’s easier to write when you have enough distance from the subject matter. I gave this book 3 stars on good reads. Would you recommend it?

Taynement: Nope. But I think that is a limiting question because it’s all based on taste and it wasn’t for me. I gave it 3 stars as well.

Leggy: I think people should read this book but I can’t think of anyone I could possibly recommend this book to. What would I even say? I enjoyed it but I don’t think I could sell it.

Taynement: Agreed.

“Look, I was a hungry shade, nothing more. I latched onto the men, and their energy felt like sticky fruit sliding between my fingers and when we were done, I was still hungry. And after the next time. I was still hungry. And after the one after that one, I was still hungry. I would have drowned them all. I would have inched slowly over their bodies, dipped my fingers inside their throats and ripped out sounds. I filled their bed with secrets. Ada was right- I found pleasure in evil. I did many things in hunger that could be misconstrued.” 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Would you recommend it? Is there any book you’d like us both to read and chit chat about? Let us know in the comments!

 

Taynement & Leggy.

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “We Chit Chat: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi”

  1. Sooooooo.
    I agree with both of you in different parts.
    I like Leggy have followed the author for years so I knew many parts of the story.
    However it wasn’t tedious for me to get through at all. Like it was a quick read for me even though I had a number of breaks to just process some of the …stuff. Like ah. New character? New God? Please wait let me go and eat and come back.
    I also felt like parts of it were pretty convenient cop outs for being a shitty human being. A really shitty human being. But there was also the history of abuse and the mental health issues so I was quite empathic as well.

    Also I still query that whole ogbanje bit. It almost feels self imposed but hey, I really do not know that much on the subject so I’ll allow it.

    I loved her writing style tho. And I felt it was very well written. Even with the unconnected dots.
    I’ve been recommending it to several people. To traumatize them a little. Lol.
    But ya. I’m glad you guys got around to reviewing it.

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  2. I found this book quite exhausting to read. It wasn’t very cohesive so I tried to enjoy each piece of the story. I liked the parts about her parents and childhood. I don’t understand bwhybshe feels she is an ogbanje. Her words are very poetic ….sometimes too poetic as leggy mentioned. I feel I would have hated the book if I wasn’t already a follower of the author and her old blogs etc.

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  3. I’m struggling. I just want to set it down and not continue. The story is interesting and i want to know how this ends but it is tedious. I also like the descriptiveness of the characters, but its borderline too much, like i just want to move along, plus it rook me a minute to connect the dots and tie the characters together. I doubt I’ll finish it.

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