A reflective, deeply human read, piecing together life in a Nigerian town leading up to a heartbreaking death.
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Why I love it
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Author, Friday Black
What happens to a person denied the space to be themselves? What does it look like to choose yourself? What is it to be, to exist, even against a multifaceted external denial? What can bloom when a person is enveloped in love? Akwaeke Emezi’s brilliant novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, asks these essential kinds of questions and more.
Early in the novel we are introduced to the tragedy that is its namesake. We are then taken on an incredible journey through and around the life of Vivek, who is a young person from southeastern Nigeria. Even as Vivek is mourned deeply, we discover many of those that are shattered by the loss refused to see and really accept Vivek in life. We see, as the novel unfolds, who Vivek was as a child and the journey that was a life ended too quickly. There is exploration of self and sexuality, there are friends that become family, there is so much.
Akwaeke is able to render a world that feels vital and true. There is lush tenderness even as the novel’s titular violence hovers over the reader like a specter. There is a great power in Emezi’s words, an energy that reminds us that the body is only a beginning and that life is hard to reduce or contain. This is a book full of line-level beauty; a book of multiple perspectives, each rendered organically and fully; a book of mystery and community and love. This is a book of power, a special read that will not soon be forgotten.
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.
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