Literary fiction is a genre I don’t usually gravitate towards, as the content can be quite heavy and complex. However, this is my year to diversify my interests. I really wanted to try some new books and broaden my horizons – and where better to start than with these 3 books?
Conjure Women will be counted towards the Trope-ical Readathon, hosted by Jenny @ Jenny’s Review Blog. The Death of Vivek Oji, Block Seventeen, and The Royal Abduls will be counting towards the Diversify That Shelf readathon hosted by Noura @ The Perks of Being Noura. All of these books will be counting towards ARC August, hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeze Emezi: Reflecting on Identity
The Death of Vivek Oji
Published July 4, 2020 by Faber & Faber
Data from Goodreads
What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?
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.
Rep: Nigerian rep, Indian rep, LGBTQIA+ rep
TW: homophobia, sexual assault, rioting
What started off as an intriguing story soon left me in tears. The Death of Vivek Oji is a beautifully written story that explores themes of identity and relationships, through the perspectives of various characters. The story flits between different characters, and different time points in the story to show how Vivek Oji’s life and death affected those around him. We see how various characters, Vivek included, struggle to define themselves, refusing to accept the gender and sexuality conformity forced upon them by their community. This is a powerfully-charged book about exploration, community, and acceptance. I loved Freshwater by this author, and I’m happy to say that this book has continued to raise the bar for me. I’m looking forward to reading more by Akwaeke Emezi.
Block Seventeen by Kimiko Guthrie: Not For Me
Published June 23rd 2020by Blackstone Publishing
Data from Goodreads
When Akiko “Jane” Thompson first met Shiro Yamamoto, she knew they were meant to be. Five years later, their happiness is threatened. An intruder burgles their apartment but takes nothing, leaving behind only cryptic traces of his or her presence. Shiro risks their security in a plot to expose the misdeeds of his employer, the TSA. Jane’s mother has seemingly disappeared, her existence only apparent online. Jane wants to ignore these worrisome disturbances until a cry from the past robs her of all peace, forcing her to uncover a long-buried family secret.
As Jane searches for her mother, she confronts her family’s fraught history in America. She learns how they survived the internment of Japanese Americans, and how fear and humiliation can drive a person to commit desperate acts.
TW: death of a child, internment camps
Unfortunately, I really struggled with this book. It had such an interesting premise, but I wasn’t a fan of the unreliable narrator trope. I also didn’t like the writing style very much; the author was very repetitive in her attempts to state the obvious. The character interactions and conversations were very strange to me – I just found them too unbelievable and forced. The plot meandered far too much to keep my interest, so even though the story had a point to it, I just couldn’t bring myself to care by the time I got to the end.
The Royal Abduls by Ramiza Shamoun Koya: Not Really About 9/11
The Royal Abduls
Published March 2020by Forest Avenue Press
Data from Goodreads
Evolutionary biologist Amina Abdul accepts a post-doc in Washington, DC, choosing her career studying hybrid zones over a faltering West Coast romance. Her brother and sister-in-law welcome her to the city, but their marriage is crumbling, and they soon rely on her to keep their son company. Omar, hungry to understand his cultural roots, fakes an Indian accent, invents a royal past, and peppers his aunt with questions about their cultural heritage. When he brings an ornamental knife to school, his expulsion triggers a downward spiral for his family, even as Amina struggles to find her own place in an America now at war with people who look like her. With The Royal Abduls, Ramiza Koya ignites the canon of post-9/11 literature with a deft portrait of second-generation American identity.
Rep: Indian rep, religious rep (Muslim, Sikh)
TW: bullying, mention of terrorism
This story had the potential to be so good. Unfortunately, it fell flat for me. There are two perspectives shown here: one is Amina and the other is her nephew, Omar. I found Omar’s POV to be vastly more interesting than Amina’s; he showed such vulnerability and I could connect with his struggles. Amina’s POV was bogged down by far too much research talk. I also didn’t like her judgmental personality, and that combined with her inability to behave responsibly and rationally was just too much for me. The premise spoke about Islamic representation, but there were barely any mentions of Islamic practices and I was disappointed. Apart from Omar, there was nothing I truly enjoyed about this book.
Conjure Women by Afia Atakora: Absolutely Riveting
Published April 7th 2020by Random House
Data from Goodreads
Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.
Magnificently written, brilliantly researched, richly imagined, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and the lengths they will go to save themselves and those they love.
TW: slavery, rape, lynching, whipping
Part historical, part literary, and part magical realism, this novel had it all! The writing is magnificent, the characters are fully developed, and their struggles are highlighted so well. The story flits back and forth in time, yet still manages to present a well-researched and imaginative depiction of southern America before and after the Civil War. The novel does not shy away from difficult subject matters as it follows the life of 3 women: Miss May Belle, her daughter Rue, and Varina, the daughter of Marse Charles (the plantation owner). All the while, it emphasizes the importance of belonging to a community, and of the resilience of women. We need more books like this that do not hide the atrocities of Black slavery in America, and show the complexity of African culture. I’m so glad I read this book and I strongly urge others to read it, as well!