Review: The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
My latest Books with a Conscience pick: The Death of Vivek Oji, has been described as one of the saddest and most emotionally moving books to date. So of course, I had very high expectations. One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colourful 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. The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations – a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader.
We all know I love a sad book. A book that can create a strong physical reaction is why I am so drawn to nonfiction about racism, sexism and any other inequality. It also explains why I love horror. But more than anything, a book with the most wonderfully loveable protagonist will hook me like no other.
Vivek is such a special character to read. He is so wonderfully himself, even in this context where much of his personality and the things that bring him joy are seen as inherently wrong in much of African culture. The revelations that occur throughout the book are a big part of what made this book so fantastic – an ongoing unfolding of his complexity will keep you entirely focussed and gripped – so I won't share too much!
Reading this book reminded me of my time reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. The reader's overwhelming attachment to Jude was unparalleled in any other work of contemporary fiction I have ever encountered. This book feels less extreme; it feels unlikely that critics will be calling this 'torture porn' in the way that A Little Life was criticised. The sadness in this book in many ways feels more controlled and purposeful. Much like Jude, Vivek is a lost soul and is an outsider when looking at his life experiences and the things that make him happy.
If you are a fan of these types of books that will rip your heart in two, I have only good things to say about The Death of Vivek Oji. The writing is gorgeous, it follows similar themes to other books in this genre, but it has it has own special twists. It was one of the most dazzling and powerful books that I read in all of 2020, and as I was reading it, I had the overwhelming feeling like I was reading something very special, and something that would be adored for years to come; it will become a classic in it's own right. Following my time reading this book – and loving it to the extent that I did – I have every intention of reading more of Emezi's books, with Freshwater at the top of my list. The Death of Vivek Oji is not one to be missed!
Initial Prediction: 5 stars
Final Rating: 5 stars
Publication Date: 4 August 2020
Publisher: Faber & Faber
# of Pages: 256