✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Genre: Contemporary/Literary Fiction
Publication year: 2020
Content warnings: Major character death, death of a child, grief/loss, explicit sexual content, incest, homophobia and transphobia.
The Death of Vivek Oji begins with a mother discovering her son’s dead body on her front doorstep. In life Vivek was an elusive character and in death he is a mystery. Incorporating present day with flashbacks, Vivek’s loved one’s piece together the fragments of Vivek’s life in an attempt to understand who the real Vivek was and uncover the cause of his death.
What I liked
- The writing style and use of language
- Exploration of sexuality and gender identity
- The cultural and historical depiction of 1990s Nigeria
- The character dynamics
- Narrators of the audiobook (Chukwudi Iwuji and Yetide Badaki)
What I disliked
- How Vivek’s identity was used as a plot device
- The predictable ending
- Too many POV characters
- The portrayal of incest
- Vivek’s limited POV
Plot and Structure
I enjoyed the plot and the way in which the mystery of Vivek’s death was interwoven with an exploration of his life. Suspense was steadily built throughout, but for me, the ending did feel predictable and anti-climatic. I also found aspects of the plot distasteful in regards to the way that Vivek’s sexuality and gender identity was played with to create intrigue and mystery.
The structure followed the threads of multiple characters and wove them together into the tapestry of Vivek’s life. I liked this approach to unravelling the truth of Vivek’s death and getting to know him through the eyes of those closest to him. Unfortunately, I did find the structure jarring at times and it felt like the narrative was jumping around rather haphazardly.
Akwaeke Emezi’s writing style was one of my favourite aspects of the book. She has the most wonderful way of describing complex emotions; metaphors that so aptly conveyed loss and love. One of my favourites was the description of the fruit tree growing at the head of Vivek’s grave:
Did she look forward to the day when it would actually have star fruits hanging from its branches? Would she pick them and eat them as if she was absorbing him, bringing him back inside where he’d come from? It would be something like Holy Communion, I imagined, body and blood turned into yellow flesh and pale green skin, bursting with juice. Or maybe she would never touch the fruit—maybe no one would—and they would fall back to the ground to rot, to sink back into the soil, until the roots of the tree took them back and it would just continue like that, around and around. Or birds would show up and eat the fruit, then carry Vivek around, giving life to things even after he’d run out of it himself.
Characters and Relationships
The characters were flawed and their relationships nuanced and authentic. I appreciated that time was taken to provide each character with a personality and that none of them felt like cardboard cut-outs. Similarly, each relationship was nuanced whether between lovers, friends or relatives. Unfortunately, I did find the depiction of incest uncomfortable, mainly because I felt it was romanticised and wasn’t addressed within the text.
Sometimes I did feel lost amongst the characters and struggled to gauge who was who or how they were connected to each other (although I think this would’ve been less of an issue if I’d read the physical text along with the audiobook).
Of all the characters in the book, I connected with Vivek and his mother, Kavita the most. Vivek remained elusive throughout, but the vibrancy and intruige of his character paired with his tragic end drew me to him. I wish there’d been more of Vivek’s POV and the lack of his voice throughout the story is one of my biggest criticisms of the book. I deeply sympathised with Kavita. She was courageous and compassionate, and the love she had for her son knew no bounds. Her commitment to uncovering the truth and honouring Vivek touched my heart.
Finally, I have to mention how much I adored Chukwudi Iwuji and Yetide Badakithe’s narration of the audiobook. They brought the characters to life so vividly and conveyed the emotionality of the story beautifully.
The Death of Vivek Oji has left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was a beautifully written, powerful, heart-wrenching tale which hit on important themes around identity and what it means to be LGBTQIA+ in an unaccepting society bound by tradition and conservatism. The multi-culturalism provided fantastic representation and the characters were diverse and authentic. On the other hand, the structure was disorientating, there were too many characters and the ending was anti-climatic. Whilst I appreciate that having a wider cast of characters and telling Vivek’s story primarily from their perspective was an intentional choice from the author, the book would’ve been much more impactful to me if Vivek had had more of a voice within the story.
I’d recommend The Death of Vivek Oji if:
You’re interested in an emotionally heavy literary fiction novel with complex relationship dynamics and an exploration of sexuality and gender identity, particularly in the context of multi-cultural Nigeria.
There we have it – my first book review on this blog! 😊 I took a lot of time to think about the structure and format of my reviews by reflecting on the elements of a book that are most important to me when I’m deciding to pick up a book. I hope you like it and I’m looking forward to posting more reviews in the future.
Have you read The Death of Vivek Oji? If not, are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.