Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji
by Akwaeke Emezi
Read by Yetide Badaki and Chukwudi Iwuji
Published August 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew? 

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.

My Thoughts:
Yep, this is another one I had no clue about when I started "reading" it. It's clear from the title that this is a book about the death of a man but I expected that it was we would be working up to the death. Instead, we learn in the first sentence that Vivek Oji has died. Through flashbacks, Emezi takes us back in time to find out how, and why, this troubled young man died. 

Imagine growing up believing you were born in the wrong body. Then imagine that you are doing that in an African country, where homosexuality and transsexuality is even more hated that it is here by so many. Vivek is trying to balance his own needs and desires with the expectations and hopes of his parents. It is heartbreaking to watch him struggle and even more heartbreaking that his story can only, for the most part, be told by others. 

It is a beautifully written, very raw book that is difficult to read on many levels, with some fairly graphic sexual scenes. Some of the supporting characters were not as well developed and I was surprised that so many of the characters were homosexual, not because I have any problem with homosexuality but because  it just seemed unlikely that in such a small group of people, so many would be. I imagine that's what Emezi felt it took to fully tell Vivek's story, to allow him sanctuary. And I so badly wanted him to have sanctuary, even if that did feel a bit forced.

This is another book that I highly recommend "reading" on audiobook. Both narrators are wonderful, fully capturing the emotions of the characters. 


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