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. So: If nobody sees you, are you still there?– The Death of Vivek Oji
Summary and Thoughts
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.
I was excited to read Emezi’s sophomore novel, though I wasn’t a fan of their debut. Reading a bevy of positive reviews, I picked this book up for myself at my local library, excited to see how Vivek’s story would unravel. Coming into the novel, I knew I would be reading a character study, meditative with emphasis on characters’ emotions (rather than action propelling the plot forward). All this considered, while I did find Emezi’s language beautiful and emotionally specific, I also found my attention wandering as I read, struggling to concentrate due to how slow the story seemed to move. This book may be short, but its focus on describing all the intricacies of the characters’ actions inflate the cautious pace of the plot. Additionally, while I delighted in seeing the characters grow, it was hard for me to feel the depth of their emotions and struggles due to the distance the detailed writing created. In the end, while I’m glad to have read this book (and appreciate its wonderful message and themes), I personally did not enjoy it enough to widely recommend it. For some people, this will be a difficult novel to attach themselves to, for others, it will be an easy five stars. In any case, consider your own reading preferences before picking this book up.
For Those Who Enjoyed
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- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
- Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
- How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones