Freshwater: A Novel Summary & Study Guide

Akwaeke Emezi
This Study Guide consists of approximately 55 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Freshwater.
This section contains 543 words
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Freshwater: A Novel Summary & Study Guide Description

Freshwater: A Novel Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Freshwater: A Novel by Akwaeke Emezi.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Emezi, Akwaeke. Freshwater. Grove Press, 2018. First Edition.

Freshwater tells the story of Ada, a Nigerian human who is born with a chorus of divine gods and goddesses within her. Ada's story is told in retrospect from three perspectives: that of "the We," who are the gods inside of Ada; that of Ashughara, one of the gods who breaks free from the collective chorus; and that of Ada herself, who struggles to find her individual sense of self amidst the many voices within her.

The We begin Ada's story, explaining how Ada is the daughter of Ala, the ultimate mother goddess, and therefore is straddled between the human realm and the divine realm. Because Ada inhabits this liminal space, she is considered mad by the human world, exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and a proclivity towards self-harm. As Ada's tumultuous childhood morphs into her young adulthood, Ada moves away from Nigeria to the United States, and meets a boy named Soren. Soren and Ada date for a time, before Ada learns that Soren has been drugging and raping her through the course of their relationship.

Soren's sexual abuse of Ada enables Ashughara, one of the gods within the We, to break free. Ashughara quickly takes over Ada's consciousness, leading Ada to exhibit sexually reckless behavior. During Ashughara's dominance over Ada, Ada marries a man named Ewan. Although Ada and Ewan truly love each other, Ewan leaves her because Ada cannot give all of herself to him, leading Ada to realize she is not able to have normal human relationships because she is, in part, divine. Ultimately, Ashughara leads Ada to attempt suicide. This attempt is unsuccessful, and afterwards, the We explain that only Ala can decide when an individual's life ends. This suicide attempt marks the end of Ashughara's dominance and the beginning of Ada's journey towards self-acceptance.

As Ashughara's power declines, Ada begins to take ownership over her liminal status between the human and the divine. Under the influence of the We, Ada transitions genders, receiving a mastectomy and having sexual relationships with women. By inhabiting a space between the "feminine" and "masculine," Ada begins to embody her space between human and divine, which in turn, gives her strength. As Ada continues her journey towards acceptance, she meets Leshi, whom the We refer to as a "prince." Leshi is the first figure in the novel to truly see Ada for what she is--part-human and part-divine--and after she spends time with Leshi, Ada decides to return to Nigeria and seek her roots.

In Nigeria, Ada prays to Ala for the first time, and in so doing, comes to terms with her identity as Ala's daughter. Ala tells Ada that she must "find her tail" (224), which Ada takes to mean that "everything is shedding and everything is resurrection" (224). After Ada realizes that she is Ala's daughter, and therefore wrapped up in a process of never-ending resurrection, she refuses to be afraid anymore. Ada takes control of the gods and goddesses inside her, exhibiting her strength, and ends the novel by saying, she is the "source of the spring" and that "all freshwater comes out of [her] mouth" (226).

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