Book Reviews

Book Review: The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

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

Thus begins this book by Akwaeke Emezi. What happened to Vivek Oji? How did he die? How did his mother, Kavita come to find her son’s body, stretched out on her front verandah sans his clothes but wrapped in akwete material? The story of Vivek’s death takes us back to the day of his birth, also the day of his paternal grandmother’s death, his childhood and adolescence, as his overprotective mother and distant father struggle to understand him, and also, his own struggles to understand himself. Set in Nigeria, it is a heartbreaking tale of someone who challenges the norms of society but whose death brings to light secrets as well as the lives he has touched. 

This book – I knew from the very first sentence I would love it & I wasn’t disappointed. Emezi transports the reader to Nigeria, but more importantly, sends us on an unforgettable journey of getting to know Vivek & the people around him. It tackles the issue of gender identity, sexuality, growing up in a society that expects you to be who you’re not with compassion & sensitivity. 

The prose is exquisite. Emezi drew me in with their writing & I found myself underlining sentences that were lyrical & poignant or re-reading the musicality & the power in the prose. The story shifts from past to present seamlessly. The sensory details stay with you including the food & life in Nigeria. While you have compassion for Vivek, due to his struggles with his mental health & identity, as an author, Emezi manages to help you find compassion for his mother & his cousin & friends. There is so much sadness in the book, and your heart breaks into million pieces. Yet, there is a glimmer of optimism. In the form of being loved, of finding yourself, of being accepted. If you haven’t read this book yet, drop everything & do so. 

So: If nobody sees you, are you still there?

p. 38

I felt heavy my whole life. I always thought that death would be the heaviest thing of all, but it wasn’t, it really wasn’t. Life was like being dragged through concrete in circles, wet and setting concrete that dried with each rotation of my unwilling body.

p. 89

Alone is a feeling you can get used to, and it’s hard to believe in a better alternative.

p. 122

My rating:

Book details:

CategoryLiterary Fiction
Publication Date2020

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