The death of Vivek Oji
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.
Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader.
How the one-armed sister sweeps her house
In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister, a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers.
For Wilma, it’s the story of a wilful adventurer, who ignores the warnings of those around her, and suffers as a result.
When Lala grows up, she sees it offers hope – of life after losing a baby in the most terrible of circumstances and marrying the wrong man.
And Mira Whalen? It’s about keeping alive, trying to make sense of the fact that her husband has been murdered, and she didn’t get the chance to tell him that she loved him after all.
I chose these two books for my review post this week because they both feature a main protagonist who is strong yet vulnerable and yearns for belonging and self-expression. They are both compelling and resonated with me long after finishing the last page because I’d been given a glimpse of a different world, strong voices and exquisite prose.
The death of Vivek Oji
This is a powerful book about gender identity, ideas of selfhood, belonging and the damaging effects of cultural expectations. It follows the life of Vivel Oji a young man who we’re told right from the start has died in mysterious ways, ways his mother is desperately trying to understand.
It is Kavita’s grief, her personal quest that for me was one of the most powerful and heart-wrenching aspects of the story. She not only wants to get to the bottom of why her son died but she wants to understand what was missing in his life, and intuitively knows that his late friends are hiding vital elements from her.
Going back in time, we read about Vivek as a young person struggling with his sexuality because he is fully aware that his orientations are not viewed positively in his culture. Early on he ties a deep bond with his cousin Osita who is also trying to find his place in a community where gossip travels fast and social customs important.
It was very moving to read about Kavita’s efforts to shield her son, give him the space to think about what he wants to do in life even though she couldn’t work out why she was doing it. The grief she then has to go through after losing Vivek motivates her to go deeper into his past.
Set in Southeastern Nigeria, the author added further layers to Vivek’s background, first via the two families that bind Vivek and Osita and their overall interpersonal dynamics and backstories then via the friends who help Vivek explore who he truly is. Both Osita and Vivek will have to make a choice between following strict social conventions in order to fit in or drop the façade or live the way they want to live.
Therefore, it is also a book about what it means to be brave when the world around you doesn’t accept you. It’s tender and intuitive in its descriptions of emotions and mental pain, and a powerful story about a person who is fully aware that what matters to him is unacceptable to society and ultimately will lead him to make a decision that costs him his life. What it is both cousins really want, how Vivek died and why is for you to discover.
The book in three words : Identity, belonging and grief
How the one-armed sister sweeps her house
This book stands out with its compelling story and beautiful writing. From the very first page I was sucked in and although I did have to put the book down from time to time because I felt too much pain for the main character and the viciousness of the abuse on her, I had to continue and find out how the story developed and would end.
Set in 1984, we follow eighteen-year-old Lala who is pregnant and married to her violent husband Adan, a savvy criminal implicated in a murder case. Lala’s courageous attempt to forge her path to independence by saving up money from braiding hair on a beach in Barbados near a tourist resort made me want to reach out to this vulnerable young character and hold her hand, lead her away from all the toxic danger. Her childhood friend tries exactly that with devastating consequences which I am not going to reveal here of course.
The book offers a perfect example of how trauma travels through generations of women and how difficult it is to break out of the cycle. This means that the story is complex and despite the beautiful setting, the contrast between the gorgeous beach front tourist resorts and the hardship of local residents adds a powerful element of tension and unease.
There is much to think about in this book – the difficult relationships between grandmother and granddaughter, mother and daughter and women and men whose interactions are jeopardized by violence and poverty. Ultimately that circle has to be broken, and it needs to be broken by a woman and her quest in finding independence and freedom.
The book in three words: compelling, raw and thought-provoking
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Akwaeke Emezi (b. 1987) is an artist and writer based in liminal spaces. Their art practice is located in the metaphysics of Black spirit and uses video, performance, writing, and sculpture to create rituals processing their embodiment as a nonhuman entity/an ogbanje/a deity’s child. They are represented by Jacqueline Ko at The Wylie Agency for books, and by Chris Lupo at Verve Talent & Literary Agency for film/TV.
Cherie Jones is an award-winning author from Barbados. Her debut novel HOW THE ONE-ARMED SISTER SWEEPS HER HOUSE has been critically acclaimed by several publications including the The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post and is Good Morning America’s Bookclub pick for February, 2021. Cherie’s past publication credits include PANK, The Feminist Wire and Eclectica. She is a past fellowship awardee of the Vermont Studio Centre and a recipient of the Archie Markham Award and A.M. Heath Prize from Sheffield Hallam University (UK).
Cherie currently lives in Barbados with her children where, in addition to her writing, she works as a lawyer and indulges her passion for chocolate.