The Death of Vivek Oji

Novel by Akwaeke Emezi

A woman finds her son dead on her doorstep. Who has beaten him to death and why? What really bothers his mother are the unanswered questions surrounding her son’s death and those about his life. Most of all, who brought his body back to her? How did they know?

Vivek has layers of secrets about their living gender. Vivek does not stay within the bounds of the gender assigned at birth.

There are many opinions about the experience of crossing gender borders and the lives of real people who live this way. Whatever you believe about the transgender community, this book speaks to the universal truths of human relationships and the experience of grief and of the awkwardness of coming of age.

The mother is angry and groef-stricken over Vivek’s death. She cannot let go and needs to know the truth. Any mother who has seen her child die in one way or another can understand this refusal to accept such a tragic loss.

Vivek’s struggles are relatable to anyone who has struggled within societal demands that restrict behavior for some and not others. When Vivek changes and finds self-acceptance, Emezi treats it with such tenderness and compassion that it is there that the book simmers like a delicious sauce, ready to give flavor to anyone who tastes the meal.

The friends in the book know the truth. They know more about Vivek than his parents. They love Vivek for who Vivek truly is. They help and support Vivek through coming out. They are afraid of the consequences of that in a restrictive society.

In this novel, ties between husbands and wives, sons and daughters unravel under the strain of prejudice and intolerance built into culture and society that selects rules that not everyone can follow and remain true to themselves. Women in Nigeria have roles that they must play as do the men. There is little understanding for people in the LGBTQ community in the culture shown in the book. It is necessary as a warning note to help highlight the bigotry within our real community. What kind of community do we want to be part of? Do we want a nation where people are beaten if they are not within the established norms?

In the book, Vivek’s mother and father argue about the situation. Vivek is beaten by religious fanatics attempting to exorcize the “demons” within. Love is awakened in surprising places and grows magically. This love is precious, holy and is the book’s example of the tender reality of sexual awakening. There are some graphic depictions of sexual conduct that make the book unsuitable for all audiences.

Great book. Highly recommend it.

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