Summary and book reviews of Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil

by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala X
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Mar 2018, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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Book Summary

In the long-anticipated novel from the author of the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation, a revelation shared between two privileged teenagers from very different backgrounds sets off a chain of events with devastating consequences.

On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he's a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer - an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders - and the one person who seems not to judge him.

When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

In the tradition of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, Speak No Evil explores what it means to be different in a fundamentally conformist society and how that difference plays out in our inner and outer struggles. It is a novel about the power of words and self-identification, about who gets to speak and who has the power to speak for other people. As heart-wrenching and timely as his breakout debut, Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala's second novel cuts to the core of our humanity and leaves us reeling in its wake.

Part I
NIRU
1

The snow starts to fall just before Ms. McConnell's Global Literatures class. It is light at first and hangs in the air, refusing to stick to anything, and instead hovers about the bare tree branches shivering outside. I sit down across from the window with my back to the door like the rest of the boys. We all sit close to the door because of the walk across the Cathedral lawn to get to class and because no one wants to be the sole male body surrounded by girls. It never pays to seem like you're trying too hard. Ms. McConnell watches us remove our jackets and place our books on the desks. After the first week of the semester, she gave up on asking us to settle in quickly. Now she waits with one fist gripping her pen and the other resting on her hip until we're ready.

I can't pay attention because Meredith isn't paying attention. She always sits directly across from me with her back to the window and the row of pine trees blocking the view to ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Speak No Evil leaves readers with many unanswered questions, but not because of any failure on the part of the narrative or its author. Instead, the questions that will remain with readers are deliberate and sobering - questions that will provoke contemplation or discussion, as readers ponder what might have been or, for some characters, what might still be possible.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review Members Only (458 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Uzodinma's staggering sophomore novel (after Beasts of No Nation), the untimely disclosure of a secret… sets off a cascade of heartbreaking consequences… The revelation of what happened… is devastating and speaks volumes about white heterosexual privilege

Booklist

Starred Review. In his third book [second novel], Iweala - author of the multiple-award-winning novel Beasts of No Nation (2005) and Our Kind of People (2012), a nonfiction book about people living with AIDS in Nigeria - delivers with immediate poignancy Niru's struggles between rejecting his parents' constrictions and yearning for them; between embracing his sexuality and believing there's a cure for it, and that it should be cured at all…Portraying cross-generational and - cultural misunderstandings with anything but simplicity, Iweala tells an essential American story.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Iweala unwinds crucial issues of choice and the burden of playing multiple parts; says Niru, 'It's too confusing for me to live all these lives when I want only one.' Throughout a narrative spiraling toward tragedy, Niru's pain is so palpable it will make you gasp. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart
A lovely slender volume that packs in entire worlds with complete mastery. Speak No Evil explains so much about our times and yet is never anything less than a scintillating, page-turning read.

Author Blurb Larissa MacFarquhar
A wrenching, tightly woven story about many kinds of love and many kinds of violence. Speak No Evil probes deeply but also with compassion the cruelties of a loving home. Iweala's characters confront you in close-up, as viscerally, bodily alive as any in contemporary fiction.

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Beyond the Book

The Nigerian Civil War

Biafra MapIn Speak No Evil, Uzodinma Iweala's protagonist, Niru, says that his father "reminds us constantly that if he could walk ten miles to get sardines and tinned tomatoes for his family during the war, dodging low-flying Nigerian fighter plans that made a sport of strafing hungry refugees, then there is nothing he or we can't do." The war to which Niru's father refers, the reason why he emigrated from Nigeria to the United States, was the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970, also known as the Biafran War.

The conflict was precipitated when the state of Biafra, dominated by the Igbo but including other ethnic groups, declared its intention to secede. Tensions between the Igbo people and the Nigerian government had been ...

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