Book Review: The Death of Vivek Oji

The Death of Vivek Oji opens with the title character’s corpse being dropped off on his mother’s doorstep in Nigeria. The story that follows is a non-linear exploration of Vivek’s life leading up to his death, and the impact of his death on his friends and family.

The book: The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

I started The Death of Vivek Oji with lukewarm feelings, but the book grew on me over time. One aspect of the book that initially underwhelmed me was the writing. Perhaps the breathtakingly beautiful, lyrical prose of Freshwater (Emezi’s debut novel) unfairly heightened my expectations, but I felt that the writing in this novel (especially the dialogue) left a lot to be desired. As I read on and let go of my expectations, however, I found things to appreciate about the writing: there were some beautifully evocative passages that pulled at my heartstrings, and Emezi’s infusion of Igbo language into the dialogue helped to keep me immersed in the setting of Nigeria.

The novel’s structure is another area that I disliked at first but came to appreciate. At first, I felt like the book’s focus on many characters’ perspectives came at a detriment to nuanced development of any individual character. But the benefit to having so many different main characters is revealed when their stories come together to paint a beautifully complex portrait of the title character, Vivek, and of Nigerian society as a whole. While I do still think that a couple of the side stories could have been omitted, I loved the way Emezi weaved disparate narrative threads together to reveal a powerful bigger picture.

On the note of threads being woven together, I loved this novel’s imagery and symbolism. There were many references to plaiting (i.e. braiding) throughout the novel, which I appreciated given the novel’s braid-like narrative structure. I also really liked the theme of pictures: the novel opens and ends with references to photographs, and pictures end up playing an important role in the novel’s plot.

And speaking of the plot, I found the story itself to be compelling. The novel opens with Vivek’s corpse being dropped off at his parents’ house, so it is no secret that he is going to die, but the circumstances surrounding his death are unknown. As the novel progresses and the pieces of the story come together, Emezi drops hints and signs about how Vivek is going to die, but they keep the true story behind his death a mystery until the very end. For me, Emezi’s storytelling successfully built intrigue, dread, and suspense – which is definitely what I want from a novel with mystery elements.

Overall, I enjoyed and would recommend The Death of Vivek Oji. While I had some issues with the dialogue and character development, I feel that Emezi’s conclusion to the novel made the entire read worth it. And to those who read and loved Freshwater, just keep in mind that this is a very different novel!

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Death of Vivek Oji”

    1. I would still recommend Freshwater!! But I know some readers have found Emezi’s writing in Freshwater overwrought – if you are in that camp, then you would likely find The Death of Vivek Oji refreshingly accessible. Also btw – Emezi’s pronouns are “they”/”them” 🙂

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    1. Thank you! I’m curious to see more takes on this one because I had mixed feelings reading it, but ultimately enjoyed it. And yes! I forgot that Emezi also released Pet this year! I normally read much YA, but would still like to read Pet.

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  1. I remember around 2001-2005 (ish) there was a large influx of people from Nigera entering my town in Central Michigan. I’m not sure if something political happened that led folks to come to Michigan (or if it was the U.S. in general), but it was interesting to ask someone where they were from, and it was more often than not Nigera. We had this wonderful subsitute teacher when I was in high school who was from Nigeria (her children were born and raised in Michigan and were in high school with me) who would talk about different customs in Nigera that didn’t exist in the States. I remember in particular the left hand being evil and offensive.

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    1. That’s really cool that you grew up in a multinational classroom! Learning about different cultures from a young age is such a great opportunity. And that’s interesting about the left hand! That comment sent me down an internet rabbit hole of reading stories from naturally-left-handed Nigerians who forced themselves to be right-handed, because that taboo is so strong!

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  2. Great review! I’m glad you ended up finding so much to appreciate here, though it is good to know not to expect a second Freshwater with this one. I’m still very much looking forward to this book despite adjusting my expectations a bit; the structure and premise appeal to me, but I will miss the powerful writing from Emezi’s debut. Ah, well. I like that they’re trying something so different, anyway! It will be interesting to see what they do next.

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    1. Thank you!! I hope you enjoy this novel, especially knowing that it’s not another Freshwater! It is really cool that they tried something different rather than trying to replicate Freshwater (which is probably impossible anyway haha).

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