custom cover art by ruby onyinyechi amanze | author portrait by elizabeth wirija


"An extraordinarily powerful and very different kind of physical and psychological migration story."
—Edwidge Danticat, The New Yorker

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Ada has always been unusual. As an infant in southern Nigeria, she is a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but something must have gone awry, as the young Ada becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief. But Ada turns out to be more than just volatile. Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves. When Ada travels to America for college, a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these alters—now protective, now hedonistic—move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dangerous direction. 

Written with stylistic brilliance and based in the author's realities, this raw and extraordinary debut explores the metaphysics of identity and being, plunging the reader intothe mysteries of self. Unsettling, heart-wrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice. (Read Excerpt)

For additional material on Igbo ontology, check out the Reading List!

Order FRESHWATER from: Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Powell's | Hudson Booksellers | Audiobook by HighBridge Audio, narrated by Akwaeke Emezi (Audio Sample)

Grove Press (US) • Farafina Books (Nigeria) • Faber & Faber (UK & Commonwealth) • Eichborn Verlag (Germany) • Gallimard (France) • Il Saggiatore (Italy) • Host (Czech) • Ithaki (Turkey) • Pax (Norway) • Kapulana (Brazil) • Periscopi (Catalan) • Vellant (Romania) • Chai (Argentina) • Tranan (Sweden)


Finalist for the 2019 PEN/Hemingway Award
Finalist for the 2019 NYPL Young Lions Award
Finalist for the 2019 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction
Longlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction
Longlisted for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
Finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction for 2019
Longlisted for the Wellcome Prize for 2019
Semifinalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for 2019
National Book Foundation's '5 under 35' for 2018
Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize for 2018
Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize for 2018
Longlisted for the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize for 2018
A New York Times Notable Book for 2018
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice for 2018
An Indies Introduce Title for 2018
An Amazon Top 10 Book Pick for February 2018
Named One of the 10 Best Books of the Year (So Far) by Esquire for 2018
Named One of the Best Books to Read This Winter by Elle for 2018

“[A] witchy, electrifying story of danger and compulsion . . . Freshwater recounts the ‘litany of madness’ suffered by Ada in a serpentine prose that proceeds by oblique, hypnotizing movements before it sinks its fangs into you . . . As striking and mysterious as the ways of the gods who narrate it . . . The latest standout in this exciting boom in the Nigerian novel.” — Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“The novel is based in many of the realities of the writer’s life, but the prose is infused with imaginative lyricism and tone . . . The journey undertaken in the novel is swirling and vivid, vicious and painful, and rendered by Emezi in [sharp and glittering] shards . . . Emezi’s lyrical writing, her alliterative and symmetrical prose, explores the deep questions of otherness, of a single heart and soul hovering between, the gates open, fighting for peace.” — Susan Straight, Los Angeles Times

“A startling debut novel explores the freedom of being multiple . . . Igbo spirituality, Emezi radically suggests, has as much to offer as any [Western] schemas when it comes to decrypting human folly or transcendence . . . The book would have made grim sense through a mental-health lens; instead, it is an indigenous fairy tale . . . The book becomes a study in dysphoria—not precisely the distress of being misgendered but the more nebulous pain of being imprisoned in a physical form, of losing your wraith-like ability to evade categorization . . . There is something self-defeating about trying to trace a self that is defined by indefinability; one achievement of Emezi’s book is to make that paradox feel generously fertile.” — Katy Waldman, New Yorker

“Remarkable and daring . . . Poetic and disturbing . . . Rooting Ada’s story in Igbo cosmology forces us to further question our paradigm for what causes mental illness and how it manifests. It causes us to question science and reason.” — Tariro Mzezewa, New York Times

“Akwaeke Emezi is a name you will want to remember, because surely it is one you will be hearing again and again . . . A stunning and disorienting story about a broken woman trying to overcome the pain of her human life while straddling ‘the other side’ . . . Freshwater is unlike any novel I have ever read. Its shape-shifting perspective is radical and innovative, twisting the narrative voices like the bones of a python . . . Emezi has not only made a rich contribution to Igbo mythology, she has crafted a novel so unique and fresh, it feels as if the medium has been reinvented.” — Safa Jinje, Toronto Star

“Akwaeke Emezi’s bewitching and heart-rending Freshwater is a coming-of-age novel like no other . . . For anyone who has experienced life as a misfit or outcast, this is a resonant rendition . . . For all its sheer invention, Freshwater feels more like an interpretive journey through uncharted territory with an experienced guide. Potent and moving, knowing and strange, this is a powerful and irresistibly unsettling debut.” — David Wright, Seattle Times

“Akwaeke Emezi parts the seas of the self in her engrossing debut novel, Freshwater.” — Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair

“Harrowing yet beautiful . . . Racing through [Freshwater] felt disrespectful—To the gods? To Emezi? To literature itself?—for [it] is the kind of novel that deserves, no, demands immersion and focus. Every sentence left me reeling, every paragraph on the edge of my seat, and every chapter begging for more. I could’ve spent hundreds of pages more in Emezi’s lush creation . . . For a debut novelist, Akwaeke Emezi has successfully pulled off what many longtime writers only dream of doing. It’s an astonishing, haunting, stunning piece of work.” —

“[A] stunningly poetic debut. Emezi’s deconstruction of identity is gripping, her approach to sensitive subjects deeply moving.” — Entertainment Weekly

“Far surpasses your average edgy coming-of-age novel . . . A gripping read that deftly achieves what many postmodern books strive for—a discussion and interrogation of the fractured self—in a way that puts its contemporaries to shame. It is clearer, faster, more intimate, and more inventive than many other topically comparative books . . . A remarkable take on human interiority.” — Riveter

Freshwater is the first novel from Akwaeke Emezi, marking the beginning of what will surely be a long, storied career. Strikingly original and impossible to put down, it tracks the life of a Nigerian woman—from birth through to her adulthood unraveling—and will leave you breathless by the very end.”—PopSugar

"A gorgeous, unsettling look into the human psyche, richly conceived yet accessible to all." — Library Journal (starred review)

“In her mind-blowing debut, Emezi weaves traditional Igbo myth that turns the well-worn narrative of mental illness on its head, and in doing so she has ensured a place on the literary-fiction landscape as a writer to watch (...) Emezi’s brilliance lies not just in her expert handling of the conflicting voices in Ada’s head but in delivering an entirely different perspective on just what it means to go slowly mad. Complex and dark, this novel will simultaneously challenge and reward lovers of literary fiction. A must-read.” — Booklist (starred review)

“[An] enthralling, metaphysical debut novel . . . Emezi’s talent is undeniable. She brilliantly depicts the conflict raging in the ‘marble room’ of Ada’s psyche, resulting in an impressive debut.”—Publishers Weekly

"Freshwater is a clarion call to those of us who find that our minds are more haunted and complex than that of the status quo. In exquisite, unearthly prose, Akwaeke Emezi renders the ordinary strange and the strange, ordinary—making Freshwater the most stunning debut novel I've read in years. An unforgettable literary experience." — Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Border of Paradise

"In Emezi's remarkable debut novel, Freshwater, we enter the lives of our protagonist, starting in Nigeria and ending in the United States. Every page is imbued with radiant prose, and a chorus of poetic voices. With a plot as alive and urgent as it is relatable, Freshwater is also solidly its own, brims with its unique preoccupations. Never before have I read a novel like it -- one that speaks to the unification and separation of bodies and souls, the powers or lack thereof of gods and humans, and the long and arduous journey to claiming our many selves, or to setting our many selves free." — Chinelo Okparanta, author of Under The Udala Trees

"Freshwater is one of those dazzling novels that defies these kinds of descriptions. We can gesture to the story -- set in Nigeria and America, told by all the selves of its Tamil/Igbo protagonist -- but such synthesis fails to convey the magic that awaits its reader. At once fiction and memoir, potent in its spiritual richness and sexual frankness, the text seems not to have been written by but channeled through its brilliant author. This may be Emezi's debut novel but she is an old -- an ancient -- storyteller: thrillingly at home in the tradition of griots, poets, seers and seekers." — Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go

“Nigerian-born author Emezi presents an emotionally charged debut with her novel, Freshwater . . . Emezi’s prose is vibrant and terrifying; she portrays Ada’s tribulations with breathtaking detail. Freshwater is a novel of unforgiving spirituality told in a manner that is sophisticated, precise and elegant.”—IndiePicks Magazine

"Akwaeke Emezi is a major, exhilarating talent." — NoViolet Bulawayo, author of We Need New Names

"With this stunning debut, Akwaeke Emezi has blessed us with nothing less than a masterpiece. Freshwater is a journey of loss and reconciliation, home and heartbreak, and ultimately a survivor's guide to harmonizing spirit and flesh. Quite simply a gorgeous, elegant, and brutal work of truthtelling. To repeat: a fucking masterpiece." — Daniel José Older, New York Times bestselling author of the Shadowshaper Cypher series

"What if we were not one person, but three in one body—created by careless gods who forgot to 'close the gate'? Akwaeke Emezi’s novel, Freshwater, paints a fiercely unique,unforgettable story of identity, mental health and the world beyond ours. This impressive debut is lyrical and well-told." — Tananarive Due, author of Ghost Summer


We came from somewhere—everything does. When the transition is made from spirit to flesh, the gates are meant to be closed. It’s a kindness. It would be cruel not to. Perhaps the gods forgot; they can be absentminded like that. Not maliciously—at least, not usually. But these are gods, after all, and they don’t care about what happens to flesh, mostly because it is so slow and boring, unfamiliar and coarse. They don’t pay much attention to it, except when it is collected, organized and souled.

By the time she (our body) struggled out into the world, slick and louder than a village of storms, the gates were left open. We should have been anchored in her by then, asleep inside her membranes and synched with her mind. That would have been the safest way. But since the gates were open, not closed against remembrance, we became confused. We were at once old and newborn. We were her and yet not. We were not conscious but we were alive—in fact, the main problem was that we were a distinct we instead of being fully and just her.

So there she was: a fat baby with thick, wet black hair. And there we were, infants in this world, blind and hungry, partly clinging to her flesh and the rest of us trailing behind in streams, through the open gates. We’ve always wanted to think that it was a careless thing the gods did, rather than a deliberate neglect. But what we think barely matters, even being who we are to them: their child.

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