Freshwater (Emezi) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for FRESHWATER … then take off on your own:

1. Discuss/describe the various personalities that the ogbanje unleashes inside Ada. Clearly, Asughara is the most formidable—what about the others?

2. How submissive, or passive, is Ada to the commands of the spirits? To what degree does she resist? Can Ada even claim to have a personality of her own?

3. In the author's world, the "insanities" were born with you "tucked behind your liver." Why might Emezi have portrayed mental illness as the result of magical spirits inhabiting us rather than  psychological or neurological disorders? Is her imaginative depiction troubling to you in that it negates the thousands of years it took science to make progress in understanding mental illness? Or do you find her personification enlightening, seeing it as an "otherness" that, at times, many of us feel overtakes the body and sabotages our lives?

4. Follow-up to Question 3: How much do we in the Western world understand mental illness, medically and scientifically?

5. In one of her narrations, Ada says, "I am a village full of faces and a compound full of bones, translucent thousands." What do you think: are our personalities fixed for all time, indivisible and unchanging for life? Or are we sometimes multiple people depending on circumstance? (Or does that way lie madness?)

7. How do the spirits respond when Ada's parents take her to Catholic Mass? What do they mean when they say…

We knew him….Yshwa too was born with spread gates, born with a prophesying tongue and hands he brought over from the other side…. He loves them as a god does, which is to say, with a taste for suffering.

8. Talk about Ada's decision to undergo surgical breast removal, which she describes as letting a "masked man take a knife lavishly to the flesh of her chest, mutilating her better and deeper."

9. Does it affect how you think about Freshwater knowing that the novel is, to a fair extent, autobiographical—that the cutting, attempted suicide, and breast removal surgery are based on Akwaeke Emezi's own life?

10. Is there wisdom in the collective "we" of the spirits as they say, at the end: "When you break something, you must study the pattern of the shattering before you can piece it back together"?

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