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Probably the best advice I’ve come across when it comes to reading Akwaeke Emezi’s The Death of Vivek Oji, the Vox Book Club’s April pick, is to treat it as an inverted murder mystery.
Vivek Oji begins, like all murder mysteries do, with a death. “They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died,” Emezi writes, in the novel’s opening line. That line is all that exists of the first chapter, and it’s all we need to know: Vivek Oji lived, and now he is dead. And on the day he died, the market in Ngwa, the Nigerian town where he lived, was burned down.
Burned down by whom? By them.
A classic murder mystery would have us spend the rest of the novel hunting for the ne’er-do-well who killed Vivek, scanning all his closest connections for the motive that would have them commit such a dastardly crime. But as The Death of Vivek Oji goes on, and Vivek’s mother Kasita becomes our detective, trying to solve the death of her son, Emezi refuses to follow the template of the genre.
“This is Emezi’s first and greatest intervention on the crime-novel form,” writes Lily Meyer in a terrific review at NPR: “nobody loved Vivek impurely.” Everyone who claims to love Vivek — his mother; his friends; and most importantly, his cousin and lover Osita — truly did love him.
But sin lies at the center of every murder mystery. And the sin of those who loved Vivek was that they failed to quite see him for who he was. They failed so completely
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