One of the most anticipated books of 2020, after a page-turning read, it’s not difficult to see why. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi is a significant cultural read, in terms of the placement of the geographical location and the social issues surrounding. The third novel from this author, there is a great deal of subtext surrounding the lives of cousins Vivek and Osita, and with a narrative structure that centres around character, there is much to adore with this 2020 publication.
Akwaeke Emezi is an artist and writer based in liminal spaces. Their art practice is located in the metaphysics of Black spirit and uses video, performance, writing, and sculpture to create rituals processing their embodiment as a nonhuman entity/an ogbanje/a deity’s child. And thus, a novel that deals with such issues as Vivek Oji comes as no surprise.
At the heart of this book is obviously the loss of a child, you cannot read the title of this book without that realisation. Expect a tearjerker, as we come to realise these characters in a 3D fashion, and miss them once they are gone, though they are never fully gone.
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 a mother’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings.
As adolescence moves over into adulthood, Vivek finds much solace in friendships with the warm daughters of the Nigerwives, the name given to the foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s endearing bond is with Osita, the cousin whose teasing confidence masks more insecurity than we are ever led to believe at the beginning of this novel. As more revelations are open to the reader, we become more concerned about the cause and motives for Vivek’s death.
Challenging, provocative and vibrant, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel that places family and friendship on a significant footing, a beautiful yet dramatic story of loss, existentialism and cultural bearing that will affect every reader. What more can we look forward to from Akwaeke Ezemi?
The Death of Vivek Oji is out now, published by Faber & Faber