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The Death of Vivek Oji


The Death of Vivek Oji

Once again, Akwaeke Emezi proves themself to be one of the most skilled, powerful writers crafting today. Their latest book, THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI, is the echo of a raw cry, the present and the aftermath blurring together, a sharp, singeing masterpiece.

We know where the story is going. Emezi gives it to us in the title; Vivek’s death is not a plot twist, a mystery or an endpoint. The secrets unfold, not only in the wake of the day his body was left on his mother’s doorstep, but in the brimming before, in who Vivek was to his parents, his family, his friends and the world. Who he had yet, and has yet, to become.

Emezi’s narrative weaves through time, twining Vivek’s childhood with the grief he leaves behind, spiraling the moment of his death. The truth is not a simple answer. Time is not a straight line. By the time the reader gets to the fact of his death, so many other truths have unfurled, necessary to understanding how the moment came to pass. There is a future, but the question is not if Vivek will live it, but how those in his orbit will live with his memory and how his story will remake them.

"THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI is a marvel and a must-read. Strong and delicate at once, it is lyric, love-soaked and utterly magic."

When Vivek begins to discover himself, his family resists. His aunt and uncle bring him to a church to rid him of his “demon,” his cousin pushes him away for fear of what Vivek’s identity may mean to him, his parents ache to cut his long, lovely hair. It is as Vivek explores more of who he is, to unapologetically live as he wants to --- at least in the secret, safe-haven places that he can --- that he comes to experience authentic love. Community love, romantic love and something approaching self-love, too.

Emezi writes in liminal spaces of the immigrant community of Nigerwives --- between what is real and what is desired, who Vivek truly was and who the members of his community wanted him to be. Emezi writes reality as it hovers, caught between what is perceived and what is, the tension strung taut --- between gender, life and death, love and selfishness, memory and grief.

No one here is perfect. There are no heroes or martyrs. There is an excavation of the deep roots of shame. There is a shifting truth. There are those who try to do what’s best for Vivek by attempting to force him to wound himself to suit their perception. And those who try to do what’s best for Vivek by giving him what he asked for, even when they don't understand it, because they love him and they understand what it means to love someone --- not trying to bring him closer to the person you want him to be, but to love him as he is, standing in front of you, his long hair catching the light as he teaches himself to dance.

There is so much brilliant, hefty, important work done in this slim novel. In a fierce, encompassing sense of the word, THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI is hopeful. Vivek finds safety in another person, bone-deep --- the safety of being yourself, laying bare every vulnerability and receiving genuine love in return. Just as the story is edged in brutality and loss, it is filled with messy, undeniable beauty.

It is about how we love each other, how we protect each other, how we harm each other, and how we make our loved ones split and hide themselves to present us with a splintered shadow we think we want to see. It is about how we grieve and how we keep each other alive.

There is heartbreak here, but not necessarily in the shape you are expecting. It is as unique and poignant as how Emezi writes hope. There are depths to this book, vast and powerful, and I am once again in awe of Emezi’s incredible voice. THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI is a marvel and a must-read. Strong and delicate at once, it is lyric, love-soaked and utterly magic.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on August 14, 2020

The Death of Vivek Oji
by Akwaeke Emezi

  • Publication Date: May 25, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0525541624
  • ISBN-13: 9780525541622