The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Categories: Literary Fiction
First Publication Date: 4. August 2020
I received an advance copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.
Emezi’s writing is absolutely incredible (I loved it in Freshwater as well), both beautiful and simple, and it keeps you turning pages, absorbed in the story. I particularly like it when books focus on characters who are difficult to like, who resemble someone you know and can’t get along with, and still you empathize and feel for them. This was the case for several of Vivek’s relatives, small-minded people who are products of their society. I could not help but understand why they made the choices they made, even as my visceral reaction was to strongly disagree. The Death of Vivek Oji explores family, friendship, acceptance, love, gender and the prejudices in Nigeria against those who are different (which, of course, doesn’t happen only in Nigeria, not even close). It packs so much into this slim gem of a book, which is an impressive feat: vivid imagery, deeply human characters, a mystery and an honest look into how family sometimes isn’t enough and how prejudice can push away the people you love. It’s truly a beautiful book and I can say it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
I wavered between 4 and 5 stars for this, but in the end I have been thinking about it for days now and was deeply impressed by it, so I decided to round it up to 5.