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2022 Shortlist

The Death of Vivek Oji

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ABOUT
THE BOOK

One afternoon, a mother opens her front door to find the length of her son’s body stretched out on the veranda, swaddled in akwete material, his head on her welcome mat. The Death of Vivek Oji transports us to the day of Vivek’s birth, the day his grandmother Ahunna died. It is the story of an over protective mother and a distant father, and the heart-wrenching tale of one family’s struggle to understand their child, just as Vivek learns to recognize himself.

Teeming with unforgettable characters whose lives have been shaped by Vivek’s gentle and enigmatic spirit, it shares with us a Nigerian childhood that challenges expectations. This novel, and its celebration of the innocence and optimism of youth, will touch all those who embrace it.

Comments from the Judges

Akwaeke Emezi’s novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, opens with a chapter of only one sentence: “They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.”  From that first sentence, we are immersed in contemporary Nigeria in all of its complexity, where tight family and community bonds are woven into the submerged stories of gay, bisexual and transgender people, and where groups such as the ‘Nigerwives’ (foreign-born wives of Nigerian men) form one of the cultures that make up the mosaic of Nigerian society.  Emezi’s novel manages to balance an unflinching realism with something of the quality of a folktale or a myth.  On one level, this is a very directly told story of two people coming of age and grappling with sexualities that struggle to find expression.   As readers, we encounter these lives almost like “a stack of photographs” being handed around at a wake (to use an image from the novel).  At the same time, The Death of Vivek Oji is shot through with mythic elements.  Oji is born on the day of their grandmother’s death, and there is a sense in which her spirit inhabits the person they will become.  The burning market foretold in that opening line is both an entirely credible part of the novel’s world, and a kind of symbolic crucible, out of which a new identity is born.  “I was born and I died”, Oji tells us at the novel’s end.  “I will come back.”

ABOUT
THE AUTHOR Akwaeke
Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is a writer and video artist based in liminal spaces. Their debut novel Freshwater was longlisted both for the DUBLIN Literary Award 2020, Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and for the Wellcome Book Prize among others. Emezi’s writing has appeared in T: The New York Times Style Magazine and many more publications. A National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ honoree, Emezi was born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria.

Akwaeke Emezi is a writer and video artist based in liminal spaces. Their debut novel Freshwater was longlisted both for the DUBLIN Literary Award 2020, Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and for the Wellcome Book Prize among others. Emezi’s writing has appeared in T: The New York Times Style Magazine and many more publications. A National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ honoree, Emezi was born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria.

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NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS

Akwaeke Emezi’s novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, opens with a chapter of only one sentence: “They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.”  From that first sentence, we are immersed in contemporary Nigeria in all of its complexity, where tight family and community bonds are woven into the submerged stories of gay, bisexual and transgender people, and where groups such as the ‘Nigerwives’ (foreign-born wives of Nigerian men) form one of the cultures that make up the mosaic of Nigerian society.  Emezi’s novel manages to balance an unflinching realism with something of the quality of a folktale or a myth.  On one level, this is a very directly told story of two people coming of age and grappling with sexualities that struggle to find expression.   As readers, we encounter these lives almost like “a stack of photographs” being handed around at a wake (to use an image from the novel).  At the same time, The Death of Vivek Oji is shot through with mythic elements.  Oji is born on the day of their grandmother’s death, and there is a sense in which her spirit inhabits the person they will become.  The burning market foretold in that opening line is both an entirely credible part of the novel’s world, and a kind of symbolic crucible, out of which a new identity is born.  “I was born and I died”, Oji tells us at the novel’s end.  “I will come back.”

This nuanced story of the life and death of Vivek Oji, a Nigerian-Indian youngster with both worldly and spiritual secrets, is a refreshing phenomenon in the international field of prose literature. Nigerian-born Emezi’s second novel is a fierce mystery that praises chosen families and the diversity of gender. Helsinki City Library, Finland

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Date published
04/08/2020
Country
Nigeria
Original Language
English
Author
Publisher
Faber and Faber

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