One afternoon on a day like any other in a small town in Nigeria, a mother finds the body of her dead son on her doorstep, stripped of his clothes and wrapped in cloth. So begins the heart-wrenching story of The Death of Vivek Oji. Jumping about between multiple POVs (including Vivek from beyond the grave), the reader accompanies Vivek’s friends and family on their quest to find out what really happened to Vivek on that fateful day. We hear of Vivek’s struggles growing up under a distant father and an overprotective mother who believe that Vivek’s blackouts and dissociation between self and surroundings are some kind of mysterious illness. These moments are contrasted tenderly by scenes of Vivek with the daughters of the Nigerwives (foreign-born women married to Nigerian men) and, most closely, Vivek’s bond with Osita, whose relationship as cousins quickly intensifies as the story unfolds.
Whilst the multiple POVs came to be one of the aspects of this novel that I enjoyed the most, I will admit that initially I was overwhelmed by the number of characters and it took me a little while to find my footing with the narrative. Considering this is a relatively short novel at just over 200 pages long, I did find myself wishing for a bit more character development in places and I think this was due to there being maybe one too many perspectives. However, each perspective did add something to the storyline and was especially important to build up details surrounding Vivek’s death.
My favourite moments in the story were when we saw Vivek with Osita and their friends, safe from exterior judgement and the danger that lay in wait on the streets. We as readers are allowed to see Vivek in their truest form in a place where they felt loved and accepted, yet whilst these moments are tender and touching, they are also tinged with remorse at the fact that it will never be safe for Vivek to act this way in public (or indeed, in front of their own family).
Emezi’s prose is rich and heavy in imagery, the kind of writing that makes you stop and pause as you take it all in. I frequently found myself re-reading passages and taking note of quotes that were crafted with utter perfection. Vivek’s chapters in particular which were often only brief at a page or two had a definite literary quality to them and reminded me ever so slightly of the omnipresent voice of Dead Papa Toothwart in Lanny by Max Porter, this kind of voice from beyond that was always around but never tangible. A moving novel about the loyalty of friendship, loss and coming to terms with one’s identity, The Death of Vivek Oji is an extremely important read, especially in terms of understanding how members of the LGBTQIA+ community are not accepted in Nigerian culture. Also, no spoilers, but the ending literally FLOORED me. It’s a big yes from me, and I will certainly be checking out Pet and Freshwater by Emezi next.
Star Rating: 4.5/5