The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji is a powerful novel about how the child parents think they know might not be the child they really have, focusing on the childhood, adolescence, and death of Vivek Oji. In Nigeria, a mother finds her only child dead on her doorstep, wrapped in material, and desperately wants to know what happened to them. Mixed in with this story of that of Vivek’s upbringing, showing how finding who you truly are may mean keeping secrets from your family, and that love, gender, and sexuality aren’t always simple.

Having read and enjoyed both of their previous novels, Freshwater and Pet, I knew I needed to read Emezi’s new book, and it didn’t disappoint, being a story of identity, personal relationships, and how people’s lives were affected by one person. The exploration of identity and secrets is combined with elements of social commentary, around what is spoken and unspoken and how people find community, but the main focus is on Vivek, and on the impact that someone’s life and death can have. This is important, as despite the title the book doesn’t have a huge amount of Vivek’s point of view, but instead uses others’ perspectives to get across the different ways of seeing people and the complexity of self in relation to other people.

This is a gripping novel that told an entrancing story, and though the title is about death, the book is also about life, about living as yourself, finding people to be around, and the complexity of emotion.