A reflective, deeply human read, piecing together life in a Nigerian town leading up to a heartbreaking death.
Good to know
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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This is an extremely well-written book about love. It is not a “love story” in the typical romantic sense. It’s characters depict love that is full and deep; that exists for no reason without motive
It’s been a while since I’ve picked up literary fiction. It used to be one of my favorite genres but for some reason, I’ve been reading less of them. This book reminded me of the power this genre has.
New Canaan, CT
I thought it was a stretch to have so many expats kids coincidentally be lgbtq but it supported the story. Brutal how the aunt took vivek to be “saved”. The writing was very good. I could see the book
This story absolutely broke me open and cleansed me. It’s fitting that it poured rain while I devoured it in one sitting. If you’re weirded out by the love story you missed the point. Read this book.
Miami , FL
Heartbreaking and hopeful, I read this novel in a few hours, unable to put it down. It was that good. The POV changes weren’t jarring and felt natural. I won’t give much away, just read it yourself.
Topeka , KS
This was not an easy read, but I enjoyed it a lot. Just shy of 5 stars — I wish more time had been spent from Vivek and Ostia’s POVs because I feel a lot of the other viewpoints got the story lost.
This is one of the most beautiful written books I’ve ever read. I reread every chapter from Vivek’s POV as I thought they were the most beautiful. It is such a rich and developed world in this book.
This novel is heartbreaking. The found family among children of immigrants and the grief of a mother who didn’t truly know her child were difficult but beautiful storylines I know will stick with me.
Fort Wayne, IN
A heartbreaking and heartwarming reminder that we can accept, embrace and support others separate from ourselves – that we can stand in unity without necessarily being part of it. Required reading!
St Augustine , FL
I struggled with this book. My first reaction to it was not positive as i found much of it difficult to read. However, the end of this book makes all of it worth it. I think everyone should read it.
This book was amazing. After I finished this book I was in tears. Also loved the characters and being able to know each one of their backgrounds. This book brought up religion, sexuality, and culture.
This was such a powerful and heartbreaking story of an identity beginning to unfold after death. What a beautiful reminder that we can still learn about others, and be ourselves expressed, after death
Broken Bow, NE
I wasn’t sure if I would like this book when I picked it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a story filled with sadness and misunderstanding, but also with love and acceptance. Really enjoyed reading it!
Loved the way the author penned family dynamics and true friendships in this heartbreaking novel. Beautifully written page-turner with the most perfect prose. A worthy contender for best book of 2020.
This book was beautiful and heartbreaking. The characters were all well written and honestly I lost myself in this story. The ending broke my heart, this book is for those that can handle a sad story.
Saint Albans, NY
What a beautiful book. The events are presented as a series of photographs and moments, which I thought fit well. I found a couple things that kept it from being a perfect book. Would rate this as 4.5
Little Elm, TX
For such a short book I found myself entirely immersed in Vivek's life. I found myself with a greater understanding for LGBTQ people (even being one myself) and the end totally through me for a twist!
This book burned a hole in my heart it was so lovely, memorable and heartbreaking. With vivid imagery and complex relationships, the reader is changed forever after reading this gem. Highly recommend.
Akwaeke Emezi does it again! There is always something bittersweet but lyrically beautiful about their books, and this was the same. I read most of this in one night, despite the heartbreak it brought
SAN DIEGO, CA
I thought this novel was brilliant. I found that having the story move forward through multiple points of view was incredible. Grief is a powerful thing and You can feel their loss of Vivek. Recommend