Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

akwaeke emezi the death of vivek oji
Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

When they hear some noise outside, Kavita opens the door and finds her son Vivek dead on the porch. There was some commotion at the local market and Vivek had wanted to go there where he obviously was killed. But who would ever want to do something to her beloved son? Yes, he had always been different, a bit strange which also made it hard for his cousin and childhood best friend Osita who witnessed strange occurrences such as Vivek’s mind wandering away and making him believe being a different person. And that’s just what he was, secretly, without his parents’ knowledge. But Osita, too, has some secrets he keeps from his and Vivek’s family, some just because they do not fit in their village’s idea of a young man’s life, others because they would be impossible to endure for anybody.

Just like in her novel “Freshwater”, “The Death of Vivek Oji” centres around a young protagonist who differs, whose mind works in a very singular way, yet, Vivek’s is less extraordinary than Ada’s. Nevertheless, the main conflict is placed between the individual and society: a person who does not comply with general expectations and cannot really reveal his emotions and most certainly cannot live the way he would prefer since this simply does not work in the place he lives.

“We can’t keep insisting he was who we thought he was, when he wanted to be someone else and he died being that person, Chicka. We failed, don’t you see?”

The story is told in flashbacks to describe the long road that lead to Vivek’s death. Alternately, Vivek and Osita narrate from their point of view what they experienced and how they felt. Both are trapped somehow since there are things they cannot talk about to anybody except for each other, at the same time, it is difficult for Osita to support Vivek’s otherness. The struggles they go through are very well established and easy to relate to. From a western perspective, it is incredible what is done to Vivek, especially the exorcism performed on him, but there are still places where binary thinking is the rule.

There is some mystery to solve, yet, it is much more about young people who are trying to figure out who they are and how they can live in a place where fixed rules and high expectations do not go well together with who they are. Even though it is, in the end, a rather sad story in many ways, I’d consider it a great and noteworthy read.

Anne Tyler – Redhead by the Side of the Road

anne tyler redhead by the side of the road
Anne Tyler – Redhead by the Side of the Road

Everything in Micah Mortimer’s life is in the best order imaginable. He has developed his routines of the house chores, of running every morning at exactly the same time before having a shower and eating breakfast. His company “Tech Hermit” provides enough for himself to survive and he is independent in every way. But then one day, his life somehow runs out of control. First, an 18-year-old boy shows up at his door claiming to be his son and then, his girlfriend Cass leaves him unexpectedly. He is not well equipped to deal with this interruption of his routines and certainly not when everybody suddenly seems to be meddling with his love life.

Anne Tyler is a wonderful narrator and thus, also in her most recent novel I got exactly what I had expected. “Redhead by the Side of the Road” is the story of a very peculiar man who seems somehow to go unnoticed when you cross him in the street, who is totally reliable, but also quite predictable. In his Baltimore apartment block, he takes care of everything that needs to be tended to and he seems to be totally ok with his life as he has established it. He shows little interest in matters outside his cocoon and would go on in this way forever if he weren’t interrupted. The author shows that crucial moment, when suddenly everything is put to a test, is questioned and what seems to be perfectly fine turns out to be quite the opposite. He is confronted with the decisions he has made, has to take others’ perspectives and question himself and his habits.

Micah’s obsession with tidiness and order is well explained by the contrast with his chaotic sisters. What the reader sees immediately is that not only are they quite messy and tumultuous in certain ways, but they also seem to be alive. In comparison, Micah is well organised but somehow also lifeless. Nevertheless, they love and support him and would like him to have a fulfilled partnership, their teasing is their way of showing fondness, however, he is not yet at the point of recognising this. It needs another confrontation with his past to fully understand what goes wrong.

He is not a character you immediately sympathise with, but I adored his direct and somehow naive way of addressing people, especially when Brink appears and maybe it is exactly this somehow innocent straightforwardness that makes the boy open up to him.

It is not a novel that goes totally deep with hidden meanings and messages, but without any doubt, it advocates for those nondescript, unimposing characters who have to say much more than you’d expect and it also holds the mirror up to the reader to question what is important in life, where to set the priorities and most of all, to ask yourself if you’re really happy. A moving story that I totally adored to read.

Wystke Versteeg – Boy

versteeg-boy
Wytske Versteeg – Boy

Boy ist tot, ihr Sohn, für den sie so lange gekämpft haben. Nachdem es mit der Schwangerschaft nicht geklappt hat, haben sie eine Adoption gewagt. In einer Villa wird er groß, bekommt alles, was er sich wünscht, aber er kommt nie wirklich in Deutschland an. Und dann ist er verschwunden – tot. Für die Eltern bricht eine Welt zusammen, doch die Mutter kann die einfache Erklärung Suizid nicht glauben. Sie begibt sich auf Spurensuche und lernt einen ganz anderen Jungen kennen als den, den sie für ihren Sohn hielt.

Das Buch ist kein Krimi, auch wenn sie spannende Frage im Raum steht, was vor dem Unglückstag passiert ist, wenn erst nach und nach das andere Leben Boys offenbart wird. Es ist vor allen Dingen das Dokument einer Frau, die große Schwierigkeiten hat, mit Gefühlen umzugehen, diese erst einmal zuzulassen, Nähe zu leben und Vertrauen zu anderen Menschen zu haben – und das, wo sie als Psychiaterin arbeitet. Interessant fand ich insbesondere die Diskrepanz zwischen den geschilderten fehlenden Emotionen, sowohl gegenüber dem Ehemann wie auch dem Kind, die Schwierigkeit eine klassisch-liebende Mutter zu sein, die sich für alles interessiert, was im Leben des Kindes passiert, und dann dem Schmerz, den sie empfindet, als Boy nicht mehr da ist. Auch die zweite Frau, vermeintlich verantwortlich für den Tod, wird mit vielen schwierigen Emotionslagen präsentiert, die ihr das Leben in Gemeinschaft und den Umgang mit anderen Menschen schwermachen. Erst in der Ferne und Einsamkeit können sie das zulassen, was sie in der Heimat nicht erleben konnten.

2013 wurde Wytske Versteeg in ihrer niederländischen Heimat mit dem BNG Nieuwe Literatuurprijs für diesen Roman ausgezeichnet, eine Anerkennung vielversprechender Jungautoren. Im Zuge der Frankfurter Buchmesse 2016, bei der die Niederlande und Flandern Ehrengast sind, wurde auch dieser Roman in Deutschland bekannt. Kein leichtes Werk, das einem bisweilen an die Substanz geht, aber dadurch enorm ausdrucksstark.