“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” — Ralph Ellison

Secrets can be slippery and truth is not always as practical as one might want it to be. It can be elusive, hiding unseen behind the molars in a person’s mouth. Our latest read transports us to Nigeria, where a mother is desperate to find out how her son died while others work to protect her son’s secrets.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

When Kavita opens the door to find her son’s bloodied body on her doormat, her world is blown apart. Kavita’s grief over the abrupt loss of her son leads her to seek answers over what happened to her only child. How did her son die? How did his body find its way back home?

Akwaeke Emezi’s gripping and elegant novel “The Death of Vivek Oji” unfolds as his family and friends reel from his tragic death. As the plot bounces from the perspectives of Vivek’s family and friends, and even briefly to Vivek, Emezi’s narrative unfurls with a delicate complexity.

Vivek’s mother knows his friends are hiding something from her and she can’t fathom why they won’t tell her what they know. Her nephew and Vivek’s closest friend, Osita, steers clear of his aunt as she tries to understand more about the son who became so mysterious to her in his final days. “The Death of Vivek Oji” features characters grappling with their identity and burdened by their grief as each seeks to protect Vivek’s memory in their own way while his mother finds herself unraveled by the questions surrounding his death.

Emezi gradually offers up each devastating puzzle piece to Vivek’s story as the past and present come together to reveal the snapshot moment of Vivek’s life and death. Emezi’s charismatic depiction of the dazzling Vivek glows brighter with each page, breathing fresh life into a character who was dead from the very first sentence. Instead of allowing death to dull the vivacious titular character, Emezi’s writing illuminates Vivek, allowing his story to resonate much farther than the reader could anticipate.

From the book jacket…

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.

If you enjoy…

Readers who fell for Emezi’s elegant writing may also find themselves drawn to the dreamy nature of Alice Sebold’s novel “The Lovely Bones.” Bookworms may also find themselves captivated by Megha Mujaumdar’s propulsive thriller, “A Burning.”