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The Death of Vivek Oji

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2020)
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.

Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, 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.

248 pages, Hardcover

First published August 4, 2020

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Akwaeke Emezi

11 books6,748 followers

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5 stars
18,568 (38%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,226 reviews
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,233 followers
August 2, 2020
------------------ BOOK REVIEW -----------------

My video review is up on my YouTube channel :)

------------------READING VLOG-----------------

Stayed up till 4:30 AM to finish this beauty and have been crying for a good half an hour over it. What a joy it is to know that people such as Emezi are in this world. I know how it is often said that books transform you, but I've never had that feeling as strongly as I had with this book. Not only is their prose phenomenal, but Emezi has an excellent command of the narrative, adding just the right amount of prose secondary to the main storyline to paint an even more vivid picture. As the title states, this book is about The Death of Vivek Oji, but it is also (perhaps even more so) about Vivek's life and the people around them. Many of the main characters are coming of age and are feeling the restrictions that society thrusts upon all of us. One of the many reasons as to why I cherish this book is that it shows people doors to possibilities, they might not have even thought existed - and if that's not a hell of an achievement, I don't know what else is. READ THIS BOOK WHEN IT COMES OUT.

The time has come!! My ARC came in the mail this week and I couldn't have had a better start to Black history Month with this book! #Blessed

Oh my gosh, I can't believe I will be getting a copy in a couple of weeks!!! BRUH, once I have this in my hands, I'm going to inhale that story in one go and

I am simply OBSESSED with Akwaeke, I need this in my life right now!! I can't wait!!

I am here for it!! I'm currently reading Pet and it's such an amazing story, can't wait to read more of Emezi's work :)

You can find me on
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Profile Image for Gabby.
1,170 reviews25.3k followers
September 3, 2020
This book made me bawl my eyes out 😭 it was so good and so sad and so damn beautiful. Easy 5/5 for me. It reminded me quite a bit of A Little Life in a way, with the gorgeous thought provoking writing and similar themes. It takes place in a town in southeastern Nigeria, and the story opens when Vivek’s mother opens the door and discovers her sons body wrapped in a colorful fabric. This is an incredibly moving story about friendship and family and identity and I just want to give Vivek the biggest hug. I read this physically while listening to the audiobook on librofm and I HIGHLY recommend the audiobook. There are multiple narrators on the audiobook and it’s such a great experience, the voice actors really bring this story to life. I just can’t get over the ending 😭🥺 I haven’t cried like this over a book in some time.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
730 reviews4,989 followers
February 19, 2022
It was the clearest terror and pleasure I had ever known.

Have you ever wondered what it felt like finishing a novel before it was dubbed a “Classic?” Upon turning the final page in Akwaeke Emezi’s The Death of Vivek Oji I had the feeling I was finishing something that deserves to be important for a long time and could likely be a modern Classic. The follow up to their incredibly imaginative and important 2018 novel Freshwater--which set such a high bar I didn’t think possible to clear--and the wonderful 2019 YA novel Pet, Emezi returns with a bittersweet and powerfully moving story set in their home of Nigeria and follows the lives of characters who, for a variety of reasons, don’t quite fit in. Central to these lives is Vivek, whose death casts a long shadow over the novel as Emezi deftly weaves past and a post-death present to expertly tease tension and narrative reveals to absolute perfection. With most of the story taking place in 1998 surrounding the death of dictator Sani Abacha Emezi entwines Nigerian social issues with their characters awakenings of identity in a novel so moving, so exquisitely crafted it deserves to become a modern Classic.

Osita wished, much later, that he'd told Vivek the truth then, that he was so beautiful he made the air around him dull.

Akwaeke Emezi has an undeniable gift for prose and storytelling. Their language is so fluid and remarkable, like the best of poetry, and is endlessly inviting. This is a book that can be dissected and give way to voluminous discourse while still being accessible and understood by any reader, a trait the most lauded of popular American classics tend to share. This is a book that is difficult to set down once opened and one that is brave and bold by pointedly addressing exactly what it sets out to say in the most beautiful ways possible.

The story rotates between a third-person narrative to first person chapters from the perspective of Vivek and the cousin Osita, while also moving back and forth across the timeline. Emezi has a finely tuned instrument of storytelling here, moving the narrative like a champion chess player positions their pieces on a board to construct the perfect checkmate. Vivek’s death is not a spoiler, it is on the cover and is mentioned in the opening line of the novel, but the picture of it is incomplete and slowly washes into view towards a total completion by the end of the novel. This is a very visual and visceral novel and it would be no surprise if readers recall moments more like a scene from a film than words on a page. The second chapter begins with the line ‘If this story was a stack of photographs,’ establishing the visual sense that will permeate this novel, as well as foreshadowing the importance of photographs that will become a crux in the narrative. Photographs, it would seem, are the Chekov’s gun of this story.

Returning to the language and perfect prose for a moment, it should be noted that this is not an American novel, nor is it meant to be. Emezi retains a strong inclusion of Igbo culture through the words and syntax in the character's speech. Without hindering understanding, this reminds readers that they are observers, this is for them to watch and appreciate but as an outsider. This is a good thing, and it really works here. There are obvious parallels that can be connected and a surging empathy to these characters, but the distance reminds the reader that they can accept/embrace/support others as separate from themselves and stand in unity without being part of it. It builds empathy by caring about something outside of yourself and not colonizing every narrative to be about you, while still giving all the fulfilling experiences a reader has when finding themselves in a novel. I found this to be one of the aspects I respected most in this novel, the way it created a space for itself and established healthy boundaries for it while still welcoming the reader in.

‘“You’re safe,” he murmured. “It’s just me. It’s just you and me.”

I predict this will be a staple of book clubs for years to come, particularly as it highlights very urgent and important themes of sexuality, gender identity and the way resistance to progress is exponentially harmful. Here in the United States, the murder of trans folk is a major issue, and 91% of those murdered are Black trans women. This is the sort of violence normalized in society that the books speaks against. The main story is inseparable from the historical and context in which it is set, which reveals a lot through their juxtaposition. Set in 1998, Vivek is brought home from University for unmentioned reasons--likely related to a perceived mental health issue--on the day that Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha died. ‘It’s a new day for Nigeria,’ Chika, Vivek’s father says, ‘A new day...for all of us.’ There is a striking parallel between Vivek’s feeling of freedom to embody their identity that grows with the acceptance of close friends and the hopes for freedom as Nigeria would hold their first democratic election after 16 years of military dictatorship. In the peripheries of the novel are social issues, such as violence against gay of ‘non-masculine’ men, riots occuring in the marketplace, and--as examined by a brief dispute between two side-characters--a tension between Nigerian Christians and Muslims, particularly over a fear of Muslim refugees that have settled in the North.

The political landscape becomes a minefield for Emezi’s characters to navigate as they embrace who they are in an ever changing world. The characters are all part of a community family unit, the children of the Nigerwives: women from outside Nigeria who have married Nigerian men. Vivek’s own mother is from India, for example. Girls who are not fully Nigerian are made to cut their hair short in primary school, and hair and hair length becomes a critical motif in this novel, particularly for Vivek who has grown their hair down to their waist. Emezi depicts a strong, obdurate patriarchal society where men openly have affairs or have a second family in hopes of having a male heir. Amidst these conditions, the youth are growing into their own and adopting far more inclusive and progressive lifestyles than their parents. There is a stark contrast between the outdated beliefs of the parents that view any perceived aberration as a sign of failing mental health--or demonic possession as evinced by a particularly horrific moment when Vivek’s aunt brings him to church to have him physically assaulted by the preacher in order to ‘drive the demon’s out of him’--and the youth who are far more accepting. Vivek is immediately embraced by the girls he grew up with in childhood and stays in their homes because his own family cannot accept his identity.
They were girlfriends, yes, but who could they even go and say that to? And if you didn’t tell other people, was it real or was it just something the two of you were telling yourselves?

The youth reject the established norm of heterosexuality as the only option and are quick to embrace fluidity of pronouns. They see the way their parents way of thinking is not only erasing their identities, but also causing them grief and existential pain. If they cannot be accepted and would be cast aside like trash, be it for their sexuality or simply for being a daughter in a patriarchy that emphasizes value on sons, how can they come to terms with themselves and exist? ‘You’re keeping me in a cage,’ Vivek shouts at their father, an outcry specific to being kept indoors lest they bring shame upon the family but also a cry for their entire generation restricted by outdated principals. Despite the violence and sadness that overtakes the narrative in an impending death you know if coming, there is hope in the youth for a brighter, more humane future.

The Death of Vivek Oji is a marvelous achievement and one that, along with their astonishingly good first novel Freshwater, should make Emezi a widespread name. For a novel coming in just under 250 pages, this delivers an intricately plotted and nuanced story with a depth that will keep your mind abuzz long after you finish. It has all the hallmarks of greatness that deserves to keep it circulating for many years to come and an intoxicating bittersweetness that will keep it in your heart just as long.

Profile Image for karen.
3,968 reviews170k followers
February 13, 2021
looking for great books to read during black history month...and the other eleven months? i'm going to float some of my favorites throughout the month, and i hope they will find new readers!

Freshwater was a very stylized bit of emotional brutality whose jaggedy flow i loved but totally understand why other readers might not. this one, though—this is how you win book awards, court book clubs, AND make your goddamned name.

this is an undeniable stunner.

you’ve read the title of this book, so i don’t need to worry that i will spoil anything by saying that this is about...the death of vivek oji, in both the literal and figurative senses. but it is NOT 248 pages of him gasping out his last breaths while his skin cools and his heart stops—his death; the how and why of that single moment, is not the primary focus, it's more like the maypole around which the colorful narrative strands of vivek's before-and-after are wrapped: the details of his short life and what losing him does to those he leaves behind. like your own death, you never forget his is there, looming, but it's only the anchor; the backbone holding all the storymeat in place.

it’s very confident and unhurried in its storytelling; nonlinear without being confusing, full of empathy and tenderness, beautifully written and accessible, with some of the most relatable depictions of grief i've ever read.

It was impossible not to miss him when I was with her; it was as if someone had driven a shovel into my chest, then levered it out again, taking up all it could hold, leaving a screaming mess behind.

it's a departure from the broken-glass tone and structure of Freshwater but shares its themes of sexual and gender identity, and the idea of permeable borders between bodily states, life and death, etc. however, it is much more straightforward than their debut; a coming-of-age type of story about friendship, family, first love, courage and conviction.

like Freshwater, there's an emphasis on otherness, but here cast in a much more positive light—whereas Freshwater was all about alienation and isolation, here we have the the nigerwives: a group of foreign-born women married to nigerian men and raising their children in a country not their own. these women turn their otherness into a bond—building a community out of what sets them apart and providing an extended, chosen family for their children.

these children of the nigerwives—vivek and his friends—were so charmingly written, their relationships sweet and light and fiercely loyal. it's a bit like seanan mcguire's wayward children series sans magic—these mixed-race, sexually spectrummy, supportive oddball kinds of kids, most especially twin sisters olunne and somto reminding me of sumi and her confection-ate ways:

Somto swiped a fingerful of icing from another and licked it. "You don't have to eat the whole thing," she said. "She still hasn't learned how to put a normal amount of sugar in them."

I put the cupcake down and shook my head. "I can feel my teeth rotting already."

Olunne leaned over and picked the sugar dragonfly off the cupcake, popping it into her mouth. That was how we found each other again, in a blocked-off room filled with yellowing light: two bubblegum fairies there to drag me out of my cave, carrying oversweet wands. I don't know how deep I would have sunk if not for them. I wish I'd told them more often how much that mattered to me.

the novel alternates between first-person POVs of vivek and his cousin osita with third-person om-narr chapters weaving between them, and emezi balances the different voices and timelines well, building tension by doling out hints and foreshadowing without letting it clutter up the narrative flow. it's such smooth, accomplished storytelling, all tender hopes and palpable griefs, and i am so ready for more from them.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Angela M (On a little break).
1,270 reviews2,217 followers
August 3, 2020
3+ stars.
One of the strengths of this novel is the writing, really beautiful prose and images. “If this story was a stack of photographs- the old kind, rounded at the corners and kept in albums under the glass and lace doilies of center tables in parlors across the country ...” I was struck by the recurrence of photographs, both imagined as above and the actual ones reflected in Vivek’s funeral program “ The program was full of pictures of Vivek as a small boy, a baby; nine of them looked like him now. It was as if whoever had selected the pictures had decided to end the timeline ...that they wanted to pretend he was someone else.” And at the end, actual photographs, so affecting, so revealing.

While this story is about the death of a young man, not a spoiler as it is obviously reflected in the title and with a one sentence first chapter. It became more than just his story and therein lies the weakness for me - just too many relationships thrown into a novel that is not very long and at times, these relationships felt like add ons. For me that diluted in a way Vivek’s heartbreaking story . I wanted more of Vivek through his own self reflection “So: If nobody sees you, are you still there?” I wanted more from Vivek’s perspective, not just how he was seen by others.

The author does a wonderful job of portraying all of their grief - his cousin Osita, bound to Vivek by so much more than blood, but none more than Vivek’s mother Kavita. This is a story about identity, Nigeria in the 1990’s, about the beauty of acceptance, sadly coming too late. Mixed feelings so it is right down the middle for me with 3+ stars. The + for the writing.

(Warning for those who may have an issue, there are some graphic sex scenes.)

I read this with Diane and Esil, my monthly book buddies.
Profile Image for Rebekah.
695 reviews23 followers
August 10, 2020
(okay so like no one is going to talk about the incest in this one? no one? no one's going to talk about the sexual relationship between cousins that their peers seem to accept, or at least not challenge? no one? just me? okay)

This book definitely has its merits, okay, and I like Emezi's writing (a couple months ago I read Pet and really enjoyed that) is very solid. However, this book left me feeling underwhelmed. I enjoyed the process of unwrapping the layers of the story as we jump around the moment of Vivek's death before we know what really happened and how Vivek died, but I found the reveal to be the most underwhelming part of the book.

I also just didn't feel like the incestuous relationship needed to be a part of this. There are plenty of ways to incorporate a "forbidden" aspect of a relationship (starting and ending with Vivek's fluid identity, really) without getting into incest. It left me feeling kinda icky...

Overall, this did not really impress me, but Emezi does remain an author I'm interested in reading more from.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Swrp.
561 reviews84 followers
April 17, 2022
"I often wonder if I died in the best possible way..."

In The Death of Vivek Oji, Akwaeke Emezi through their beautiful writing brings to life a protagonist, who dies with a broken heart and painfully misunderstood by all the ‘loved’ ones.

"...exactly how difficult it was to dig his own grave with the bones of his son..."

The story depicts the many times Oji`s parents, particularly the mother misses to understand and accept the true self of their child. The always-distant father and overly-religious aunt push the child further away into pain and unhappiness.

Set in Nigeria, this book is beautifully written with an engaging storyline. The book also covers the treatment of girls and women in Nigerian society, and also the blind religious faith of some people. It does feel that the detailed description of the intimate scenes could have been omitted.

Rest in Peace
Vivek Nnemdi Oji
Beloved son

She looked like a burning sunset
A thing cannot be at two places at once
The beginning and end of everything
She moved like the ground was falling away beneath her feet, the future rushing towards her.
What do you do when you are not allowed to be angry with God
The real me was invisible to them, it didn't even exist to them - so nobody sees you, are you still there?
People don't react well to their power beaten out of them
‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ - kept the beauty intact - I wanted to be as whole as that word.

Note - please read the trigger warnings before reading this book.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,064 reviews38k followers
September 9, 2021
After being mesmerized by each chapter of Freshwater, I dived into the opportunity to read another brilliant work of the author!

Reading this book made me feel like purchasing a ticket to a photography exhibition and as soon as I took my first step to the gallery, I got flabbergasted by the detailed, meticulous, realistic portraits exhibit the cultural mosaic, traditions, daily lives of people’s lives from Nigeria. It criticizes harsh intolerance and questions sexual identity exploration and self identity crisis.

So many delicate, sensitive issues harmonized with different people’s stories.

The writing is extraordinarily beautiful, poetic. The author knows how to create visionary art to broaden our horizons but....

Yes this would be one of my favorite reads if there weren’t some issues bothered me a lot.

First of all: mystery part of Vivek’s death didn’t work with me! It’s already tragic, heart wrenching and real tear jerking story. So it doesn’t need any additional murder mystery premise. Vivek’s death shakes you hard and as you keep reading his life from the perspectives of loved ones, only thing you can deeply feel sadness and pain.You can sense the oozing grief at each chapter that truly breaks your heart.

And the other thing that didn’t quite fit my expectations was multiple POVed story telling. Instead of listening Vivek’s life by himself, we’re learning the facts about his life via friends, family members, lovers. Maybe we may read more genuine and honest portrait of his life with lesser POVs.

Overall: the beautiful writing, honest approach to the extreme intolerance of community and well developed portraits, poignant story of Vivek are the strengths of the novel. I loved the author’s previous works more but I still mostly enjoyed this book and rounding up my 3.5 stars to 4!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Riverhead Books for sharing this emotional arc with me in exchange my honest thoughts.
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
3,930 reviews2,159 followers
January 19, 2023
...and I thought: (85 percent into the book) yes, I agree this book is sad but I am not crying or even feeling that emotional. Those who said who bawled their eyes out must be overreacting.


And then.... the last two chapters happened.

And then.... my bed was a pool of tears I was drowning in.

Seems like I am overreacting a bit here but no, it actually happened and it happened at wee hours. It was so heartbreaking and it was so difficult to read about what the characters were going through.

This is a powerful story of identity, a debate on how a young person struggles with their sexuality and how it's inevitable to have someone by your side to be called as your own and what it means to be brave when the rest of the world you are familiar with doesn't accept you as you're.

The plot deals heavily with gender identity as well. It started with (as the title says) the death of Vivek, the rest of it opening up to the events leading to it. I say it's something you wouldn't expect.

I want to say that this book isn't for everyone especially not for young readers. You may find some scenes disturbing and inappropriate.

I love the multicultural background representation of the characters. It's so well done.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,429 reviews29.4k followers
September 16, 2020
The Death of Vivek Oji , Akwaeke Emeze's newest novel, is easily one of the best, most powerful books I’ve read all year.

One day in Nigeria a woman finds the body of her son, Vivek, on the porch of their house, wrapped in colorful fabric. It appears he has been beaten to death.

Vivek’s parents are grief-stricken, but while his father accepts that these things might happen in a country torn by violence, his mother is desperate to understand what happened to her son. She saw him that morning and craves to understand the events that followed.

Vivek was a gentle soul, a free spirit who felt chained by a world that sought to define him. He only felt comfortable letting his guard down with his friends, the daughters of the Nigerwives, a group of foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. And he was closest to Osita, his cousin, who found himself inexplicably drawn to Vivek.

This is a gorgeously written story of identity, sexuality, love, grief, friendship, and the need to live the life you want, even in a country where doing so might be deadly. It’s also a story of a mother desperate to understand her child.

I haven’t read Akwaeke Emeze’s other books yet, Freshwater and Pet , but I definitely will now. This was emotional, beautiful, and so poignant, and their storytelling took my breath away.

I won’t forget this one anytime soon.

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,845 reviews34.9k followers
August 25, 2020
No spoilers...

If I had read this book earlier...I might have written a - more descriptive review....[they have been done]. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel - when it doesn’t need reinventing.
So, at this point - I can only add my agreement to all the five star reviews.
Many previous readers took the words right out of my mouth:
....Brilliant-beautiful- devastating-heart wrenching- powerful - exceptional.....
....One of the best books this year...by an extraordinary talented author.
....One of the best written books I’ve read about coming-of-age-identity & sexuality....( including abuse, adultery, incest, and bigamy);
....One of the most powerfully written books about losing a child; brutally murdered....[ as a mother myself...I ached/still ache the thought]...

I’d like to believe that all parents who lose a child- recover - not sure if it’s possible - ( I’m personally friends with six woman who lost a child)....but I do believe it’s possible for mothers & fathers to compartmentalize ( have the grief, memories, sadness) - while ‘also’ enjoy their lives - filled with love, friendships, passions, hobbies, a full array of joys.

This is the 3rd book I’ve read from Akwaeke Emezi. I had one of the most ‘out-of-body’ experiences with Akwaeke’s debut ‘Freshwater’ ....that I had ever had from ‘any’ book. I’ll never forget it.

I can’t resist quoting what an NPR reviewer wrote about the comparisons between ‘Freshwater’ and ‘The Death of Vivek Oji’. I soooooo agree. The expression fits my experience so profoundly:
‘Freshwater’ is a tough book to look up from. So is ‘The Death of Vivek Oji’ — but for completely different reasons. The two novels are strikingly dissimilar. Where ‘Freshwater’ is headlong, ‘Vivek Oji’ is restrained. Where ‘Freshwater’ roams between countries and regions,
‘Vivek Oji’ remains firmly planted in southern Nigeria. Where ‘Freshwater’ refuses traditional storytelling, ‘Vivek Oji’ adopts the form—though never the spirit— of traditional crime fiction, seeming to glory in the genre’s conventions before slyly subverting them”.

Vivek suffered .... can’t deny it....( both literally and figuratively: physically and emotionally). The reader acclimates/desensitizes to the ‘death’ of Vivek....( he dies at the start of this book).....and engages with the entire unfolding of his life ....
As we learn more about Vivek’s tangled happiness....a mood or a moment...the image of him is quite pleasurable. And the closer I got to the end of the book - the slower I read.... I just didn’t want it to end....and I loved Vivek wholeheartedly.....(as his family and friends did).

Akwaeke Emezi’s writing is vivid, and experiential. The voices from each of her characters are ruthlessly powerful.

Another fantastic achievement from Akwaeke ( love her name)....
One of my favorite female authors!!!
Each of her books are wonderfully fresh.

5 strong stars from me....
Profile Image for emma.
1,781 reviews42.7k followers
December 4, 2022
i have put off reviewing this book for as long as i can. it has been a full and entire and exact 2 month period since i picked it up for the first time.

and there's one simple reason for that: i don't really remember anything about it.

i have a vague impression of this being a beautifully written and kind of insane book, but i think that's probably because the only note i took on it was the words "goodness gracious."

but that's a perfect title and i gave it 3ish stars, so how bad can it be.

bottom line: i love to dabble in being absolutely terrible at this reviewing thing.
Profile Image for Thomas.
689 reviews164 followers
September 28, 2020
4 stars for a coming of age story in present day Nigeria. Vivek Oji is a young man whose body is discovered by his mother one day at her doorstep. His body has been wrapped in fabric. The story of his life is told in flashbacks, from 2 different points of view: Vivek and Osita. Osita is his cousin and best friend. They grow up together and are like brothers. However, Vivek is subject to spells(possibly epilepsy) and enters Osita's room when Osita and his girlfriend are intimate. Osita loses his girlfriend and blames Vivek.
Vivek realizes that he is not comfortable as a man in Nigerian society. Gay people are looked down upon in Nigeria, subject to Christian "conversion" which means exorcism and beating a victim to rid him of the devil. Also, sometimes gay people are attacked and killed. Vivek's mother Kavita is desperate to find out what happened to her son. Vivek's father, Chika, is distant and has an affair. The ending is somewhat of a surprise. There are excellent descriptions of Nigerian society--food, spirituality, customs and people.
Some quotes:
Chika thinking about a connection between Vivek and Chika's mother: "How else could that scar have entered the world on flesh if it had not left in the first place? But still, he denied this for many years, for as long as he could. Superstition, he said. It was a coincidence, the marks on their feet--and besides, Vivek was a boy and not a girl, so how can? Still. His mother was dead and their family was bereft, and in the middle of it all was a new baby."
Plants: "There was a cluster of bitterleaf bushes in front of the boys' quarters, fighting with an ixora hedge for space."
Vivek's book: "I kept the book for the title, for how it was spelled. Beautyful. I had no idea why that spelling was chosen, but I liked it because it kept the beauty intact. It wasn't swallowed, killed off with an i to make a whole;e new word."
Thanks to Penguin Group Riverhead for sending me this eARC through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,399 reviews8,118 followers
August 30, 2020
Loved the representation and overall messages within The Death of Vivek Oji. We learn at the beginning of the novel that Vivek has died, so the rest of the book details both what led to Vivek’s death and the aftermath. The two characters who elicited the most emotion for me included Osita, Vivek’s high-spirited yet reserved cousin, and Kavita, Vivek’s overprotective yet ultimately understanding mother. By the end of The Death of Vivek Oji, we witness the effects of family secrets and how non-acceptance of people who differ from us – even when that difference does nothing to damage ourselves or society – may hurt those we love the most.

I really appreciated this novel’s setting in south-Eastern Nigeria and the lgbtq themes throughout. Akwaeke Emezi does a fantastic job of establishing the sense of community, both the values of the different families in this Nigerian town and the interpersonal dynamics such as gossip about other families’ personal business. I can’t get too into the lgbtq themes without spoiling the novel, though I will say the most heart-wrenching scenes for me included the bond between Osita and Vivek, as well as Kavita’s development by the end of the novel.

I give this book three stars because I feel like the inclusion of so many character perspectives weakened its overall emotional resonance. I would’ve loved if we followed just Osita and Kavita so we could have gotten more scenes with them interacting with Vivek throughout Vivek’s life, which I feel like would’ve made me even more invested in their relationships. While I recognize the importance of this story on a social justice level, I think the wide spread of perspectives in a pretty succinct novel made it hard for me to care on a deeper level. Still, I’d recommend it to those who are interested in its synopsis. I’m also still looking forward to reading more of Akwaeke Emezi’s work as I already have their book Pet!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,685 reviews14k followers
August 4, 2020
I wasn't immediately drawn into the novel, didn't feel like I really liked the character of Vivek. The writing was terrific though and I did like the setting of Nigeria. I kept reading and soon was immersed in a complicated storyline, Vivek was a complicated character. Nigerian culture left little room for those who were different. What happens though, to those who no longer want to pretend to be something they are not? That is the story, a story we know from the beginning has a tragic end.

A struggle for young people whose repressed culture, family honor, leaves little room for those whose sexual identities were not the norm. I can see what the author meant her message to mean, but this was another case for sometimes less is more. There were a few characters who had bit parts in the novel, and I couldn't discern why they were even mentioned. Overkill on the many different ways sexual identity can be expressed.

The last third of the book was my favorite. We find out how and why. We also see the strength of a mother's love.

Intense sexual situations.

A read with Angela and Esil and once again we were in sync. Quite a bit of discussion was drawn from this one.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Katie Colson.
603 reviews5,203 followers
August 26, 2022
This book is so important. I can’t even list out all the reasons why because it would be better to go into this book completely blind. Just know that everyone’s recommendations are correct. This is stunning. It’s deep. Eye opening. Heart warming. Heart breaking. And absolutely worth your time.
Profile Image for — Massiel.
240 reviews1,129 followers
April 28, 2022
Y'all please take a moment of your life and read this book.

P.S. I would sell my kidney and all my organs if Akwaeke decides to write a memoir book.

Buddy read with Adriana✨
Profile Image for sarah.
377 reviews397 followers
August 9, 2020
"If nobody sees you, are you still there?”

I cannot decide how I felt about this book. On the one hand, it was an incredibly well written, important and emotional novel. On the other, it was too short to get fully invested, had too many characters and not enough of the most complex and engaging one- Vivek.

We begin the story with the end, the death of Vivek Oji. The book then backtracks and tells the story of Vivek from birth to untimely death. Throughout, there are deeply relevant discussions of identity, acceptance and an overarching theme of love- in all its messiness. This book was thematically brilliant, but my main issue was that it seemed to be trying to pack in too many topics, characters and storylines into too short a page count. If it were a bit more fleshed out, I think it could have packed much more of an emotional punch. We follow everyone from Vivek's parents, cousin, grandmother, friends- and some who I could not even discern their purpose of being in the book. I may well have not being paying as much attention as I could have in some sections, so perhaps upon reread I will connect more.

My favourite parts about The Death of Vivek Oji:

the writing
The writing was simply breathtaking- beautiful at times and ugly at others- but always in purposeful and masterful way.

the setting
Set in South-Eastern Nigeria, the setting is vibrant and culturally rich. However, Akwaeke Emezi does not shy away from the prejudice and discrimination evident.

Vivek Oji
For a book seemingly about Vivek, there wasn't nearly enough of the character. For the most part, we only see Vivek through other peoples eyes. For this reason, I never really felt like I knew the real Vivek. This could very well be the intention of the author, as the tagline for this book is "What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?" But I think it did the book a disservice.

Overall, my feelings towards this novel are conflicted. I know this will be a hit for many, and for good reason- it is mostly for personal reasons that I couldn't connect to it as deeply as others. If the premise and themes intrigue you, I would without a doubt recommend it.

Thank you to Penguin Random House and Libro.fm for this ALC

Release Date: 4 August 2020
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,089 reviews7,945 followers
April 11, 2021
The Death of Vivek Oji is a very focused look at one person's life but through the lens of many people around them. The novel begins, as the title suggests, with the death of our main character, Vivek.

He is the son of an Indian immigrant and a Nigerian father, and in his childhood and into young adulthood becomes close friends to other children of Nigerwives (immigrant women married to Nigerian men). The novel has a lot to say about 'outsider' status, whether that is national identity, sexual identity, gender identity or something else.

One day, Vivek's body shows up dead, naked and wrapped in cloth on his parents' doorstep. It's the same day the local market is burned to the ground, but there are no clues or leads as to how and why Vivek has died and who brought him to their door.

From there we follow many characters, particularly his mother, Kavita; father, Chika; cousin, Osita; aunt & uncle, Mary and Ekene; and a handful of the young women, children of the Nigerwives (Elizabeth, Juju, and others).

It's a deeply moving, complicated story about acceptance of oneself, acceptance from one's family, and even larger acceptance from one's community as a whole. Also, how the secrets we keep can either bind us to or push us away from the one's we love. Vivek's life is cut short, and along the way we discover why and how, but it's not as cut and dry as you might assume.

I enjoyed this book as much as it can be for the rather sad subject matter. [TWs for ]

One thing I haven't really been able to fully get my head around was the ]

I'll definitely check out Emezi's other novels because they are clearly a skilled writer and storyteller.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,076 followers
June 30, 2020
The Death of Vivek Oji tells a compelling story of identity, belonging and grief. As a cultural portrait of Nigeria—in all its complexity, contrasts and frictions, it is particularly good.

In that respect, this novel covers a surprising amount of ground, darting from city to small town to rural village, taking in a range of cultural and religious traditions, small details of daily life and larger ones of conflict and intolerance. The titular Vivek’s mother is Indian, and her social circle consists almost entirely of foreign women—from Thailand, the Philippines, the UK, the USA etc—who have married Nigerian men. The women’s children are thus thrown together and (eventually) forge a diverse group of friends, bonded by their outsiderdom.

In the foreground are personal issues of gender identity and sexuality. Here, the novel’s structure undercuts some of its emotional power. The story of Vivek’s death, and tragically short life, is told from the perspective of those left behind—family, friends, lovers—but this limits how much we hear directly from Vivek, who is by far the most vibrant and interesting character. Emezi also contorts the narrative to make the manner of Vivek’s death a mystery until the very end, which I felt was unnecessary and distracting—a suspense-building contrivance.

Emezi’s 2018 debut, Freshwater was as bracing and vital as its name. By comparison, The Death of Vivek Oji almost seems like the work of a different author. More conventional and accessible, it doesn’t quite manage to live up to its predecessor. One book does not a ‘trademark style’ make, but this follow-up lacks the flair and inventiveness that won Emezi so many ardent fans, and even the prose seems less polished. On the other hand, readers who found Freshwater confounding or overwrought may actually prefer this novel’s directness.
Profile Image for Dwayne.
118 reviews109 followers
July 12, 2022
Have you ever wondered when someone dies, what that person's family really knew about them during their life? What secrets did they keep? How much of their true selves were they willing to reveal to the people that they lived with? These are some of the questions that The Death of Vivek Oji asks and tries to answer about its title character.

The premise is simple- Vivek, growing up in Nigeria, is loved by mom and dad. One day, his mother discovers his dead body wrapped in a piece of fabric at their door. Told from the perspective of different characters and employing the use of flashbacks, the rest of the book shows us exactly what happened. I'm not sure why I wanted to read this book, but I'm so happy that I had it near to the top of my pile for this year. Teeming with devastation, I was truly floored. Floored, I tell you! It's a heart-wrenching story that will stay with me for a long time.

The writing is uncomplicated, but never pedestrian; in less than 300 pages, Emezi gives the characters more life and verve than a lot of authors could do in twice the length. Vivek's spirit is mysterious and gentle, and a lot of the book reads like a coming of age. Naturally, his parents don't understand him as he continues to change and evolve, but as the book slowly reveals, he was able to build his own tribe and find acceptance before his death.

Emezi doesn't try to sugarcoat the fact that life is harsh. We all know this to be true. But in the midst of intolerance and even death, beauty still resides within us and it needs to be celebrated. I feel like that kind of beauty and the celebration it deserves only comes when we learn to accept in ourselves what society rejects. On that level, The Death of Vivek Oji also serves as a cautionary tale, one that begs us to see people for who and what they really are before it is too late.
Profile Image for may ➹.
462 reviews1,843 followers
April 5, 2022
No rating. This is a truly beautiful book... barring the incest. If that hadn’t been a part of the story/hadn’t been left unchallenged, I probably would have liked this more. Emezi explored gender and complex familial relationships in the context of a patriarchal society with skill, and I can’t deny that I teared up a bit over the more heartbreaking parts. I also loved the non-linear, multi-perspective style of storytelling, the slow unraveling of the mystery of Vivek’s death. But even with all the emotions I felt and the beauty of Emezi’s words, I finished this book with a bad taste in my mouth because of the incest, and I can’t say I recommend reading this.


:: representation :: Nigerian cast, biracial (Nigerian, Indian) genderqueer main character, Nigerian mlm character, biracial side characters (Nigerian & Thai, Nigerian & Filipino)

:: content warnings :: death, rape, incest, domestic abuse, violence, transphobia, homophobia, cheating, depictions of grief & depression, depictions of blood
Profile Image for jenny✨.
563 reviews770 followers
November 13, 2020
I'm bawling and I can't stop. This was so beautiful—so bittersweet: its every word hurt my heart.

And every day it was difficult, walking around and knowing that people saw me one way, knowing that they were wrong, so completely wrong, that the real me was invisible to them. It didn’t even exist to them.
So: If nobody sees you, are you still there?

Akwaeke Emezi writes the most lyrical, poignant prose, and I can't get their words out of my head. Ultimately, the death of Vivek Oji contained multitudes—layers of love and loss.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,445 reviews2,178 followers
January 6, 2020
With their new book, Emezi has written an emotional drama, a work of social criticism, and a very effective suspense novel that revolves around an actual death, but also around another mystery: The dynamic of human relationships, in all their flawed glory. Growing up in Aba, Vivek Oji is the beloved son of a Nigerian father and an immigrant mother from India, and as we learn from both the title of the book and the first sentence, the young man dies - but how and why? This question drives the narrative, and the author does a fantastic job keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

Told in alternating chapters by an omniscient narrator, Vivek's cousin Osita and Vivek himself, we learn that Vivek was born wih a mark on his foot that looks exactly like the scar of his grandmother who died the day he came into the world. Also, he is tormented by an enigmatic "illness" which drives him into a deep depression - as it turns out, Vivek is queer and gendervariant and doesn't know how to live his truth (I'm not using "they" as a pronoun at this point - the book will tell you why!). Also, Vivek feels a strong, mystical connection to his deceased grandmother.

Emezi shows how the people around him struggle with Vivek's timid attempts to show and speak himself, including his feminine side. The novel shines when the author writes about the complicated relationships between friends and family, their love, their friendship and their sexual relationships, straight and queer. These characterizations and dynamics are extremely well drawn and render the novel more accessible than the more abstract Freshwater - the people we encounter frequently have strong emotional plasticity and experience both failure and growth, which makes it exciting to follow their journeys.

The concept of "otherness" is also explored in the form of the Nigerwives, foreign women who are married to Nigerian men. Quite a few of them feature in the text and their stories illustrate the challenges they are facing in their roles as immigrant wives. The author themselves was not only raised in Aba, they are also half-Tamil, a "half-caste" (which is the term used in the novel), like Vivek and many of his friends. Another group that is othered and thus excluded are the Northerners who have different clothes and customs than the people living in the South of the country where Aba is located - Emezi is especially hinting at the conflicts between Hausa and Igbo. In this context, Emezi shows the barbarity of "necklacing", a lynching method where a petrol-filled rubber tyre is put around a victim and set on fire, and in another instance, they describe the practice of religious exorcisms, which seems to be a problem in Nigeria.

This is a great novel, both full of heart and a real pageturner. "Why are you so afraid? Because something is different from what you know?", Vivek asks at one point - but there are some people who know what he needs: 'They barely understood him themselves, but they loved him, and that had been enough." Vivek hides things in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, hinting at the possibility of a brighter future for gendervariant people - I need to read that now, just as the two books Emezi cites as their inspiration, Toni Morrison's Love and Gabriel García Márquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Profile Image for Book of the Month.
229 reviews12.5k followers
August 17, 2020
Why I love it
by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

What happens to a person denied the space to be themselves? What does it look like to choose yourself? What is it to be, to exist, even against a multifaceted external denial? What can bloom when a person is enveloped in love? Akwaeke Emezi’s brilliant novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, asks these essential kinds of questions and more.

Early in the novel we are introduced to the tragedy that is its namesake. We are then taken on an incredible journey through and around the life of Vivek, who is a young person from southeastern Nigeria. Even as Vivek is mourned deeply, we discover many of those that are shattered by the loss refused to see and really accept Vivek in life. We see, as the novel unfolds, who Vivek was as a child and the journey that was a life ended too quickly. There is exploration of self and sexuality, there are friends that become family, there is so much.

Akwaeke is able to render a world that feels vital and true. There is lush tenderness even as the novel’s titular violence hovers over the reader like a specter. There is a great power in Emezi’s words, an energy that reminds us that the body is only a beginning and that life is hard to reduce or contain. This is a book full of line-level beauty; a book of multiple perspectives, each rendered organically and fully; a book of mystery and community and love. This is a book of power, a special read that will not soon be forgotten.

Read more at: https://bookofthemonth.com/the-death-...
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,284 reviews638 followers
August 15, 2020
Take special care if you decide to listen to “The Death of Vivek Oji”. Because the story takes place in southern Nigeria, the names of the characters require attention. Also, it’s written in Nigerian dialect, which provides the story an authentic tone, but requires, again, care upon listening. This is a special story that requires special attention to details.

Saying that, I loved the story and the audio production. All the narrators are fantastic. The chapters are broken out with different narrators, each having their own impact and opinion on the life of Vivek. From the title, we know that Vivek dies. From the narrators, we learn how he lived. The mystery is what happened: how did he die?

This is a coming-of-age story of a boy who struggles to find himself. His identity and sexuality which is not accepted in Nigerian society adds to his struggle. Author Akwaeka Emezi shows how young adult’s friends and peers become important in how they accept each other’s individuality. Emezi also shows how well-meaning parents and adults can be blinded by and unaccepting of what is right in front of their eyes. One of the biggest tragedies of the story is that everyone loved Vivek. Everyone thought they were doing what was best for Vivek, or honoring Vivek’s wishes.

Author Emezi’s prose are beautiful. In one of Vivek’s narrations he states: “I’m not what anyone thinks I am. I never was. I didn’t have the mouth to put it into words, to say what was wrong, to change the things I felt I needed to change. And every day it was difficult, walking around and knowing that people saw me one way, knowing that they were wrong, so completely wrong, that the real me was invisible to them. It didn’t even exist to them.”

Although this sounds bleak, redemption and love find ways into the story. Although Vivek is dead at the beginning of the story, the reader gains love for him through the narrators. Vivek was kind and peaceful. He’s a character who will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,379 reviews11.7k followers
May 2, 2021
I understand this book’s importance, and info about Nigeria is interesting, especially if you haven’t read much African literature. But the mystery isn’t a mystery, some POVs are totally irrelevant to the narrative, and finally, I needed more Vivek, and instead got more random Ebenezer and hookups that added nothing to the plot. Also, maybe I am not refined enough, but what am I supposed to get out of ?
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,637 followers
June 20, 2022
I read along enthralled at this magnificent ensemble piece, caught up in the story, feeling the genuineness and the complicated-ness of the people in it, full of wonder and appreciation at how skilled Emezi was at keeping so many plates spinning and making me care so much--and then all the plates fell down.

update: my friend jo has helped me reconsider my disappointment in the ending and I've decided that I shouldn't let that letdown overshadow the magnificence and the nuance of the rest of this novel.

I see some reviewers here wished for more focus on Vivek, or the relationship between Vivek and Osita, but I loved the many digressions and the feeling I got from those, especially the many representations of married life, family, and intergenerational relationships between families. My favorite chapter in the entire novel was the extremely digressive chapter sixteen, where a man named Ebenezer watches Vivek from afar and thinks he is looking at a beautiful tall girl. Emezi skillfully connects the reader with some overlapping scenes, through the use of repeated dialog. But the main story isn't about Vivek at all--it's about how Ebenezer comes to realize how much he loves his wife. It's beautiful storytelling that gives us a completely different perspective on the landscape of this novel.
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