February 2, 2019

We are all made up of many

What does it mean to be made up of many? How do we reconcile the multitudes that live within us, that many selves that make up our self?

In Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi takes the metaphorical struggle of being made up of a village full of faces and a compound full of bones” and makes it literal: Emezi shows us what it would it would mean to come to terms with having so many different spirits living within us by telling us the story of Ada, an ogbanje, a girl who houses spirits.

I have housed spirits. I have had to come to terms with multitudes. When I was younger, my bipolar disorder manifested itself in schizoaffective symptoms: I heard voices, was swayed into action by the many who lived inside me. It was a scary time, one that took a lot of care—and medication and therapy—to help me understand that I could listen to myself instead of them.

But what if, instead of silencing the many, I learned to embrace them? What if, like Ada, I came to terms that there were spirits inside me that made me who I am, and that was okay; that the presence of multitudes didn’t make me any less of an individual?

This is the joy in reading Freshwater: the novel is a journey in learning to understand that we are all fractured selves, that we are all made up of the many. Our journey to that understanding can be a tumultuous one—and Akwaeke Emezi creates poetry out of that tumult as we are guided through Ada’s story—but it is also one that culminates in solace and self-awareness.

Perhaps we are all ogbanje in our own ways, and we just don’t have the mythology, the words, to help us express who we really are.

→ Marginalia