Book Review

Review: The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

This book was shockingly good. Emezi has written a story that is not only about the shocking, senseless death of an individual, but they have pulled together secrets, issues of being ‘other’ in a society and culture that does not welcome it, and the life that has led to this point.

Title: The Death of Vivek Oji
Author: Akwaeke Emezi (they/them)
Pages: 248
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: 4th August 2020
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher

Rating: 5 stars

Vivek was born on the same day that his grandmother died. Vivel’s body was found naked and abandoned on the doorstep of his parents house. This book tells the story of the pages inbetween – some are from Vivek’s perspective, some that of his cousin, Osita, whilst others shift between other characters, including his mother and friends.

Vivek’s death is set against a backdrop of unrest in Nigeria – “thieves” are lynched in the marketplace, some foreigners have status, whereas refugees do not. Some churches preach violence. But Vivek’s own personal life is one of unrest – he experiences blackouts and disorientation, is slight and strange and, when he returns from university with long hair, and seems to be wasting away.

What is beautiful about this is novel is the how the younger generation begin to rally around him, providing support and a means of self-discovery. Particularly in a society and culture that is clearly less accepting.

The story is non-linear; there’s a lot of jumping around between different characters and timeframes, however it is somehow not confusing for the reader, and Emezi slowly reveals each piece of information until the final, sad twist.

And this isn’t going to be a happy story – we’re talking about death and grief here, and people searching for meaning and understanding. But Emezi has such a beautiful way of writing about it that really makes an impact on the reader, without being high-handed in their approach.

The speech also contains snippets of Igbo and particular ways of speaking – these are scattered throughout the characters’ words but aren’t at all intrusive or hard to understand, they compliment the real-ness of the narrative, and your understanding of the characters. Likewise, parts of Nigerian culture, or class, or education filter through, particularly into this community of people with one Nigerian parent and one foreign parent who are part-way between cultures themselves. For example, how the social status (ie what kind of school they attend) or heritage of a child can determine when they cut their hair, or how their fathers might act towards their own wives, which are expressed so neutrally, but seem so appalling.

This was the kind of read that was beautifully written, very powerful and should be shocking.

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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