Review: The Death of Vivek Oji
Updated: Dec 24, 2021
The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi (2020)
The Death of Vivek Oji is heartbreaking, but so beautiful. This book was tough to put down, and also tough to read, as stunning as it was tragic.
From the get-go we know that Vivek, the son of a Nigerian father and an immigrant mother from India, has died, and his naked body has been left on the doorstep of his parents' house. What follows is a series of flashbacks unfurling Vivek's life, and how it intertwined with those of his beloved cousin Osita, his parents, aunts & uncles, and a quartet of female friends with whom he shares his deepest secrets. These flashbacks slowly unmask the real Vivek Oji, as his mother continues, in present-day, to ask endless questions of those who knew him, trying to find out how and why he died.
At it's core a murder mystery, the novel tackles issues of societal norms, physical appearance and sexual identity in Nigeria, doomed love affairs, family drama, and the many ways that people grieve. (Emezi was born in Nigeria, now lives in New Orleans, and identifies as transgender.) While some secrets in the novel are revealed slowly, with hints along the way, there is also at least one genuine jaw-dropping moment. Emezi's skillful and poetic writing also aptly reveals the complications of different forms of love - none without it's pitfalls, but all pure in their intent. There are no villains here, and there is no "smoking gun." Just the culmination of a life lived in secret, where everyone who loves Vivek only knows a part of him. Once all the chips have fallen, there is redemption for some, continued sadness for all, and some secrets that can never be told.
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