The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Published: 8/4/2020 by Riverhead Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
“What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?
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.
Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader.”
Triggers: Cheating, mention of rape, sacrifice of an animal, homophobia, physical abuse, bullying, sexism, rioting, miscarriage, death.
When I started this book I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as everyone else. It took me a minute to really get into the story. However, that ending made tears fall from my eyes, so I knew it was either going to be four or five stars. Upon further thinking, it was definitely a five-star read! If you’re looking for black authors to read for Black History Month, this would be a fantastic place to start.
The amount of heartbreak that happens while reading this novel is extreme. The control and oppression that Vivek is shown makes me so upset. His family / community never give him a break. He could never truly be who he wanted to be. You only get glimpses into Vivek’s brain, understandably, but you’ll want more as the story progresses. It’s hard only seeing through the lens of his family. You mainly get Osita’s point of view, and you’ll understand why if / when you read it.
It’s mind blowing to me that men with longer hair are even seen in a different light. It’s just hair, but different cultures assign it different meanings. This one gives men with long hair a bad connotation, but I’m so proud of Vivek for standing up for himself. I’m also happy that his mother, Kavita, sticks up for him as well. She struggles to understand what’s going on with Vivek, but she tries to see where he’s coming from. She just wants her baby to be okay. Sadly, he’s taken from the Earth far too early.
He was hiding in everyone else’s house as if he didn’t have a home. We didn’t know anything about our own child’s life.
There are parts in here that involve the two cousins, Vivek and Osita, that made me uncomfortable. I just didn’t expect it to happen. It’s a very intimate relationship, but you have to understand that Osita is one of the few people who allow Vivek to be Vivek. Osita obviously wants to protect his cousin, but he knows he’ll end up doing what he wants to in the end. Emezi definitely explores this relationship and turns it up a notch.
Can we talk about Mary and Ekene? I hated them with every fiber of my being. After reading about what happened when Mary took Vivek to church, I could have thrown the book (my iPad) across the room. I wanted to rage through my town. I just wanted to give Vivek a big hug.
I’m so happy I gave this book a chance. It explores so many kinds of relationships (familial and romantic). There’s so much sadness and heartbreak, but there’s a light at the end of the very dark tunnel. Some characters even experience growth—Kavita mostly. I just want everyone to experience this book, but I know it’s probably extremely triggering for so many people. I just think it’s so important to read. I haven’t read anything quite like it. If you think you can handle all of the triggers, then I recommend you read it with an open mind and open heart.
Akwaeke Emezi (b. 1987) is an artist and writer based in liminal spaces. Their art practice is located in the metaphysics of Black spirit and uses video, performance, writing, and sculpture to create rituals processing their embodiment as a nonhuman entity/an ogbanje/a deity’s child.
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