Book Review: The Death Of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
By Lenient Amidu
With the title, Akwaeke Emezi reveals the ending of this memorable book. The reader learns from the first lines that the main character, Vivek Oji, has already died.
Tragic romance, familial strife, and an intriguing mystery are all skillfully woven into the plot.
The work, set in Southern Nigeria, bravely confronts societal norms around sexuality and identity for a young Nigerian individual negotiating gender complexities.
Vivek's birth coincides with the passing of his cherished grandmother Ahunna, making his birthday a source of both happiness and sorrow for his parents Kavita and Chika. Vivek has the same mysterious scar on his foot that Ahunna had. Nnemdi is the name Kavita and Chika would have given Vivek if he had been born female (named after his grandma Ahunna).
Vivek's mother Kavita later discovers, after his death, that Vivek had been dressing up, going out, and using that name. As a final act of penance, she replaces Vivek's gravestone with a new inscription that reads: Vivek Nnemdi Oji, Beloved Son.
The complicated relationships between love, self-identity, gender dysphoria and death are revealed by all that takes place in the interim between these two events.
The reader would miss the great joys that surrounded Vivek's life more than being burdened with the horrific circumstances surrounding his death.Through Emezi's exquisite use of language, the reader sees Vivek come to life, or rather how hard he tried to live.
N.B: In an effort to avoid ambiguity for the reader, Vivek is referred to in this review using the pronouns "his" and "him."
Lenient Amidu is a writer and podcaster. She enjoys reading African Literature and listening to spoken word poetry albums.