Recently, I finished fellow Nigerian Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel, Freshwater, and I can say in absolute honesty that I’ve read nothing quite like it.
The prose is on fire, and they are able to bend and mold it so deftly in service of the story that I found myself gasping for breath on nearly every page. Our protagonist is a young girl named Ada, born in southern Nigeria as a response to prayer, and plagued throughout her life by ọgbanje, malevolent spirits that deliberately torment the possessed with misfortune. Interestingly enough, the term has sometimes been translated to changeling, and if you read the book, that provides a rather interesting layer of resonance to Ada’s tale. (Also, if you’re interested in Igbo ontology, Emezi’s website provides a really fascinating and helpful reading list.) Freshwater is a daring novel of how we occupy our bodies, about being and fashioning oneself out of many selves. It is, quite rightly dubbed, a masterpiece.
And they accomplish something on page 37 I had not thought possible in a book.
Ultimately, I think that was this book’s gift to me. There have been a few novels that have burst open my conception of the form, that have redefined it by changing the very space it occupies. The polyphony married to sprawl in A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. The transmutation of anger and fury into heartrending speculative fiction and a pretty much impeccably pulled-off structure in N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.
Emezi’s stunning debut can now be added to that list. If for nothing else than what they achieve on page 37.