#SaturdaySpecial: ‘An alchemy of personal family story and untouchable myth’ | The Death of Vivek Oji

The Death of Vivek Oji is Akwaeke Emezi’s latest novel whose excerpt, courtesy of YNaija and Farafinabooks, we’re happy to share with you. The Death of Vivek Oji is mainly told using a mosaic of recollections from people who knew the eponymous character. Through their eyes (and with some input from Vivek himself) we’re able to see how he lived and died. You can get your hands on it by clicking here.

Just like PET (and all of the other Emezi books), The Death of Vivek Oji has garnered favourable reviews all over the world: Lithub declared it “an alchemy of personal family story and untouchable myth. [The Death of Vivek Oji] circles itself, like a shark preparing to take down its prey; reader, you will be disarmed.”

So then, let this excerpt disarm you.

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If this story was a stack of photographs—the old kind, rounded at the corners and kept in albums under the glass and lace doilies of center tables in parlors across the country—it would start with Vivek’s father, Chika. The first print would be of him riding a bus to the village to visit his mother; it would show him dangling an arm out of the window, feeling the air push against his face and the breeze entering his smile.

Chika was twenty and as tall as his mother, six feet of red skin and suntouched-clay hair, teeth like polished bones. The women on the bus looked openly at him, his white shirt billowing out from the back of his neck in a cloud, and they smiled and whispered among themselves because he was beautiful. He had looks that should have lived forever, features he passed down to Vivek—the teeth, the almond eyes, the smooth skin—features that died with Vivek.

The next photograph in the stack would be of Chika’s mother, Ahunna, sitting on her veranda when her son arrived, a bowl of udara beside her. Ahunna’s wrapper was tied around her waist, leaving her breasts bare, and her skin was redder than Chika’s, deeper and older, like a pot that had been bled over in its firing. She had fine wrinkles around her eyes, hair plaited into tight cornrows, and her left foot was bandaged and propped up on a stool.

“Mama! Gịnị mere?!” Chika cried when he saw her, running up the veranda stairs. “Are you all right? Why didn’t you send someone?”

“There was no need to disturb you,” Ahunna replied, splitting open an udara and sucking out its flesh. The large compound of her village house stretched around them—old family land, a whole legacy in earth that she’d held on to ever since Chika’s father died several years ago. “I stepped on a stick when I was on the farm,” she explained, as her son sat down beside her. “Mary took me to the hospital. Everything is fine now.” She spat udara seeds from her mouth like small black bullets.

Mary was his brother Ekene’s wife, a full and soft girl with cheeks like small clouds. They had married a few months ago, and Chika had watched Mary float down the aisle, white lace gathered around her body and a veil obscuring her pretty mouth.

Ekene had been waiting for her at the altar, his spine stern and proud, his skin gleaming like wet loam against the tarred black of his suit. Chika had never seen his brother look so tender, the way his long fingers trembled, the love and pride simmering in his eyes. Mary had to tilt her head up to look at Ekene as they recited their vows—the men in their family were always tall—and Chika had watched her throat curve, her face glowing as his brother lifted up the tulle and kissed her.

After the wedding, Ekene decided to move out of the village and into town, into the bustle and noise of Owerri, so Mary was staying with Ahunna while Ekene went to set up their new life. Chika stole a glance at Mary from the veranda as she watered the hibiscus garden, her hair tied back in a frayed knot, wearing a loose cotton dress in a faded floral print. She looked like home, like something he could fall into, whirling through her hips and thighs and breasts.

His mother frowned at him. “Mind yourself,” she warned, as if she could read his mind. “That’s your brother’s wife.”

Chika’s face burned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mama.”

Ahunna didn’t blink. “Go and find your own wife, just don’t start any wahala in this house with this girl. Your brother is coming to collect her soon.”

Chika reached out and took her hand. “I’m not starting anything, Mama.” She scoffed but didn’t pull her hand away. They sat like that, another picture, as the evening pulled across the veranda and sky, and something boiled slow and hot in Chika, thrumming at the back of his throat. This was before Vivek, before the fire, before Chika would discover exactly how difficult it was to dig his own grave with the bones of his son.

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A 2018 National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree, Akwaeke Emezi was born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria. Their short story Who Is Like God won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, and their writing has been published by T Magazine, Dazed Magazine, The Cut, Buzzfeed, Granta Online, Vogue.com, and Commonwealth Writers, among others.

The Death of Vivek Oji was an instant New York Times Bestseller, an Indie Bestseller, and an Indie Next selection, receiving rave reviews from The New York Times, USA Today, NPR, The LA Times, and The Washington Post.


Here’s a link to get your copy of The Death of Vivek Oji.

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