Where Freshwater refuses traditional storytelling, Vivek Oji adopts the form—though never the spirit—of traditional crime fiction, seeming to glory in the genre's conventions before slyly subverting them ... It's always impressive to see a writer transform between novels in this way, but Vivek Oji would be impressive regardless. Emezi deftly tucks doomed romance and family drama into mystery, then, slowly but surely, reveals their true aim: to construct a portrait of love triumphant over death ... Emezi abandons death to focus on the complicated joys of Vivek's life, which I very much do not want to spoil for the reader, but which are joyful indeed ... If Emezi keeps one norm from crime fiction, it is their use of stock characters ... Literary writers and critic often scorn characterization this flat, but Emezi uses their stock characters effectively as points of contrast to the mutable, grieving Kavita and Osita—and, more importantly, to Vivek. Instead of getting flattened by death, Vivek becomes more vivid on each page. He glows like the sun, impossible to look at directly yet utterly charismatic. I missed him when the novel was done.
Vivek’s death is emphasized so often that it acquires an odd kind of mystery, like the blurry edges of a legend. Although the presence of spiritual forces is muted in The Death of Vivek Oji, the possibility of ancestral reincarnation frames the story in tantalizing ways ... The Death of Vivek Oji swirls around incidents, before and after Vivek’s passing, not so much rising toward its climax as gradually accruing power. Again and again, we learn of events long before we understand their cause or significance. Such a presentation could easily become a muddle, but Emezi is a remarkably assured and graceful guide through this family’s calamity of silence ... There’s just no way to finish this powerful novel and not feel more deeply than ever the ghastly consequences of intolerance. But in these intense pages of tightly coiled desire and dread, Emezi has once again encouraged us to embrace a fuller spectrum of human experience.
Emezi has a gift for prose that is often as visceral, tender and heartbreaking as what it describes ... This novel shares Freshwater’s thematic concerns, in particular in investigating ideas of selfhood that transcend the boundaries of the body ... while the novel sets out to solve the mystery of Oji’s death, what gives it power is how it uncovers the story of a person shielded by the peace of self-acceptance against the pain of the world. Here is proof of what good fiction does best: it is an antidote to invisibility.
... powerful ... Emezi has an incredible talent for moving fluidly through time, often using characters’ memories as triggers for cascading flashbacks, nesting dolls of memory, and in alternating chapters — some narrated by Osita, some by Vivek, most in the third person — we’re given pieces of the puzzle that was Vivek, but never too much at once ... Vivek’s friends make him feel whole, but the novel’s greatest strength lies in creating a community of fully realized people, each touched in some profound way by Vivek’s existence. The Death of Vivek Oji is a relatively slim book that contains as wide a range of experience as any saga — a little bit like Vivek’s brief yet gloriously expansive life.
... captivating ... Emezi manages the tricky feat of rising above pastiche and creating, in The Death of Vivek Oji, a robust literary triumph in its own right ... brimming with violent, unbridled emotions. Emezi’s compact, sophisticated prose excels at marrying economy with elegance ... It is no easy feat to give away the climax in the title yet still manage to build a compelling narrative around it. That requires self-assurance on the part of the author. Luckily for us, Emezi passes the test with dazzling aplomb. Their writing scintillates too with both poise and vigor ... The writing reaffirms Vivek’s death in poetic ways which, like an oft-repeated myth, threatens to undermine its gravity ... a sensitively drawn, achingly beautiful portrayal of the boundaries of personal, gender and societal identities.
Their storytelling prowess goes beyond the idea of giving away an ending. The fact that the reader knows it from the start makes what happens in between all the more interesting. And in Emezi’s skilled hands, the mosaic of love, pain, community, family, trauma, and beauty, that make the crown to which Vivek is the bloody jewel, is crafted into an unforgettable and deeply moving story ... Vivek’s embodied fulcrum is expansiveness, is possibility, with all of its attendant joy and ache. Emezi is a master of writing this expansiveness. The word it hinges on is gender, but gender expansiveness petals outward to all of life, an inherent queering of inherited and invented narratives. Every page of this novel is electric, but the story really shines with the loving and complex portrayal of the relationships between its younger protagonists ... Emezi’s choices about which perspectives will provide which context for the story are perfect, creating an atmosphere both fluid and engaging ... As the plot unfolds toward its already-established conclusion, the reader is let in on not just secrets and a bit of mystery, but a work of art.
A wrenching tale of grief and identity ... Emezi has a gift for creating beauty of pain...A story that would otherwise be unbearable with grief is instead as luminous as Vivek dripping in his mother’s dowry gold, hair tumbling past his shoulders.
When the mounting speculation, anxiety, and murderous fantasy bear fruit, it’s hard not to feel a tad underwhelmed. Vivek’s death is stripped of glamour, and even of pathology. Only Osita knows what really happens; Vivek’s other family members continue to tend to their delusions. In the end, those who know Vivek the least are also his most reliable witnesses ... The stranger’s momentary recognition approximates something like grace.
There is so much brilliant, hefty, important work done in this slim novel. In a fierce, encompassing sense of the word, The Death of Vivek Oji is hopeful ... Just as the story is edged in brutality and loss, it is filled with messy, undeniable beauty ... There is heartbreak here, but not necessarily in the shape you are expecting. It is as unique and poignant as how Emezi writes hope. There are depths to this book, vast and powerful, and I am once again in awe of Emezi’s incredible voice. The Death of Vivek Oji is a marvel and a must-read. Strong and delicate at once, it is lyric, love-soaked and utterly magic.
The Death of Vivek Oji’s interlacing of queerness and fantasy provides important commentary on the indescribable beauty of our differences ... Is there an inherent tragedy in queerness? An inherent joy? Emezi asks us these questions and never truly gives a reply. What Emezi has created in The Death of Vivek Oji is an opportunity for the reader to cast their own judgments ... I fell so deeply in love with his wit, mystery, and radical confidence; I couldn’t help but think that he deserved more, not only from society, but from the book professing itself to tell his story. Maybe I was meant to feel this frustration. Maybe Emezi wants
the reader to know the fury brought about by senseless prejudice. Maybe, then, I am the one looking past the meaning. Even Vivek himself seems uncertain.
...remarklable ... Answers emerge incompletely, surprisingly and in fragments as the novel progresses and casts its spell ... One of the brilliant aspects of this novel is how Emezi makes a person’s invisibility visible ... a profound exploration of the boundaries of personal, sexual and cultural transition.
Emezi’s tender prose deftly depicts the inner lives of Vivek, Osita and those around them. It also alludes to the author’s work as a video artist, with photography and pictures a recurring motif in the novel, and scenes arranged like subject matter in a painting ... While the mystery surrounding Vivek’s death is finally revealed towards the end of this spellbinding mystery, what proves most satisfying is all that is learnt in the search for truth.
The tale’s carefully woven construct falls apart at every turn in this deeply unsettling yet ultimately redeeming story about one young man’s struggles in Nigeria in a society which too often straitjackets one’s identity. Every sentence is an achingly raw jewel ... Although the sneak peek into Vivek’s mental illness early on is sacrificed at the altar of the larger narrative, the dynamite story that emerges unflinchingly upends established definitions of family and community. This is another knockout performance from a writer who, much like Emezi’s complex protagonist, refuses to color within the lines.
... haunting ... Through vivid flashbacks, friends and family paint a picture of a sensitive child prone to bouts of depression and angry outbursts ... Vivek’s complicated relationship with his male cousin Osita rests at the heart of this searing examination of gender dissonance, sexual attraction, familial love, and loyalty ... this achingly beautiful probe into the challenges of living fully as a nonbinary human being, is an illuminating read.
... a brisk tale that whirs around the mysterious death of a young Nigerian man, Vivek Oji ... Emezi affectingly explores the harm of threats to Vivek’s gender expression from other boys and men, who sling insults and glass bottles at him on the street ... While Emezi leans on clichés...and two-dimensional supporting characters, they offer sharp observations about the cost of transphobia and homophobia, and about the limits of honesty in their characters’ lives. Despite a few bumps, this is a worthy effort.
As the narrative moves around in time and from viewpoint to viewpoint, Emezi offers a richly textured depiction of a middle-class community in Nigeria ... There’s something heartbreaking about the fact that his story can only be told by others, especially since some of them never saw him as he wanted to be seen. And Osita—who loved Vivek and knew him better than anyone—cannot say everything he knows. Even so, the novel ends on a note of hope. Vividly written and deeply affecting.