INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES EDITOR’S CHOICE
LONGLISTED FOR THE DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE
"Electrifying." — O: The Oprah Magazine
Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, USA TODAY, Vanity Fair, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Shondaland, Teen Vogue, Vulture, Lit Hub, Bustle, Electric Literature, and BookPage
What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?
One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful 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. 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.
Emezi returns to adult fiction (after YA novel Pet) with a brisk tale that whirs around the mysterious death of a young Nigerian man, Vivek Oji. As a child in the 1990s, Vivek secretly identifies as a girl, the psychological strain of which causes Vivek to slip into blackouts. Only his close male cousin, Osita, recognizes the seriousness of these fugue states. (Vivek's parents dismiss them as "quiet spells.") As a teenager, Vivek grows his hair long in defiance of gender expectations, and Emezi affectingly explores the harm of threats to Vivek's gender expression from other boys and men, who sling insults and glass bottles at him on the street. As Vivek finds solace in his female friends and Osita, he discovers he is not the only one with secrets. After his death, the heartbreaking details of which are gradually revealed, the other characters learn more about his secret life. While Emezi leans on clich s ("hit me in the chest like a lorry") and two-dimensional supporting characters, they offer sharp observations about the cost of transphobia and homophobia, and about the limits of honesty in their characters' lives. Despite a few bumps, this is a worthy effort. Correction: An earlier version of this review did not use the author's preferred gender pronouns.