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The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Literary fiction

The Death of Vivek Oji

by Akwaeke Emezi

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Quick take

A reflective, deeply human read, piecing together life in a Nigerian town leading up to a heartbreaking death.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad

    Sad

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Teen

    Teens

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

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.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Death of Vivek Oji.
The Death of Vivek Oji

One

They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.

Two

If this story was a stack of photographs—the old kind, rounded at the corners and kept in albums under the glass and lace doilies of center tables in parlors across the country—it would start with Vivek’s father, Chika. The first print would be of him riding a bus to the village to visit his mother; it would show him dangling an arm out of the window, feeling the air push against his face and the breeze entering his smile.

Chika was twenty and as tall as his mother, six feet of red skin and suntouched-clay hair, teeth like polished bones. The women on the bus looked openly at him, his white shirt billowing out from the back of his neck in a cloud, and they smiled and whispered among themselves because he was beautiful. He had looks that should have lived forever, features he passed down to Vivek—the teeth, the almond eyes, the smooth skin—features that died with Vivek.

The next photograph in the stack would be of Chika’s mother, Ahunna, sitting on her veranda when her son arrived, a bowl of udara beside her. Ahunna’s wrapper was tied around her waist, leaving her breasts bare, and her skin was redder than Chika’s, deeper and older, like a pot that had been bled over in its firing. She had fine wrinkles around her eyes, hair plaited into tight cornrows, and her left foot was bandaged and propped up on a stool.

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Why I love it

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.

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Member ratings (11,209)

  • Morgan T.

    Alhambra, CA

    As a girl who usually talks too much, I’m at a loss for words. This book was heavy, heartbreaking and absolutely beautiful. We need more stories like this. Five full stars. Vivek left a mark on my ❤️.

  • Melanie C.

    Long Beach, CA

    Love so much. Beautiful, heartbreaking and a story that needs to be told. I read it in a day because I just couldn’t stop- plus it just flowed so smoothly. ❤️ it when a book touches my souls like this

  • Juliet M.

    West Hollywood, CA

    A beautifully written and moving tale of forbidden love set in Nigeria. The “mystery” is easily figured out before the reveal at the end of the book, but that didn’t detract from my loving this book.

  • Samantha P.

    Wilmington, NC

    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.

  • Suzette B.

    Salem, OR

    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

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