Akwaeke Emezi is an author who has been on my radar for a while now. And so, I couldn’t resist when The Death of Vivek Oji popped up in the Read Now section of NetGalley. Based on the synopsis alone, I wasn’t sure that this would appeal to me. After all, literary fiction isn’t a genre I read all too often. And while this book was uncomfortable for me at times, it was still written so eloquently and with such powerful emotion that it received one of the highest scores from my rating system so far – 46/50. So today I’ll be sharing my full review of The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi.
Many thanks to Faber & Faber and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Death of Vivek Oji
by Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Date of Publication: 20th August 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction
Format: eBook (248 pages)
Content & Trigger Warnings
Explicit sexual scenes (opposite sex and same sex), affairs, animal sacrifice/cruelty to animals, exorcism, homophobia, transphobia, lynching, riots, references to sexual assault/rape, loss of a child, loss of a parent, references to infertility and miscarriage, incest, domestic violence
The Death of Vivek Oji is a genre-bending tale set in contemporary Nigeria. It starts with the lifeless body of Vivek being found swaddled at their parents’ door. As Vivek’s family, friends and community grieve, we begin to learn more about Vivek’s life. Following the perspectives of Vivek, Osita and others from within their community, this vivid story challenges norms and embraces the fluidity of gender and sexuality.
This is such a beautifully written book that I was captivated by it. One more chapter quickly turned into three. I had to keep reading. In many ways, it reads like mystery because we want to find out what caused Vivek’s death. (Something we only find out right at the end.) If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself desperately clutching at straws trying to figure it out.
One thing I didn’t like so much was how sexual this book is.There are several graphic sex scenes which I wasn’t too keen on. Ultimately, it didn’t have a huge effect on how I felt about the book as a whole because I believe this was done to demonstrate the fluidity of sexuality.
While we’re on the subject, I do need to mention one relationship in particular that made me uncomfortable. I don’t know if incest is as taboo in Nigeria as it is in England but based on the reactions from secondary characters I’m guessing it is. I believe that I would have found the relationship between Vivek and Osita just as powerful and captivating without it venturing into a sexual relationship but that’s just my take.
All in all, this isn’t going to be a book for everyone. But it is a very important book. It challenges societal norms of sexuality and gender and encourages us to be more accepting of others.
- Set in Nigeria
- Literary fiction that’s also part coming-of-age story and part mystery
- Found family
- Non-binary main character
- Multiple POVs
Read this if You…
- Love books that examine gender identity
- Enjoy genre-bending literary fiction
I absolutely love reading books that tackle identity as a theme. The way that it’s addressed in The Death of Vivek Oji is especially poignant because it’s not revealed how Vivek identifies until after their death.
Vivek’s identity had been a secret shared between his friends. In their company, Vivek had a safe space to be their true self and be loved exactly as they were. I thought that was so beautiful.
To have Vivek’s parents also come to accept that identity in such a public way at the end was equally delightful. (I was in tears.)
Community was such an important theme within this book. The wives of the Nigerian men (referred to in the book as the ‘Nigerwives’) have essentially built this community themselves, their identity as wives being the thing that unites them.
We see this theme emerge early on as we learn about Vivek’s childhood. But we also see it through the different narratives. Most of the story is told by Osita and Vivek but secondary characters from within Vivek’s family and their wider community do have their stories to share too. I believe that this is largely to show that the adults all have problems of their own and that’s why their children’s struggles are not really noticed? And if they are, they are seen as a burden to add to an already heavy load.
Ultimately, it’s this community that brings hope and belonging to Vivek’s life. The children of the ‘Nigerwives’ are more accepting of their own identities. It’s a diverse group full of different sexualities and ethnic backgrounds that becomes a sort of found family. And as I’ve already mentioned, in each other they have a safe space to truly embrace who they are which is lovely.
We can’t keep insisting he was who we thought he was, when he wanted to be someone else and he died being that person, Chicka. We failed, don’t you see? We didn’t see him and we failed.
So there you have it, my thoughts on The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. It’s an interesting book, that’s for sure. Well worth picking up if you have a chance and this review has piqued your interest.
What are your favourite books that have touched on the theme of identity? Let me know in the comments below!