Books

REVIEW | 'Speak No Evil'

Story on identity shows of exciting young literary voice

“Speak No Evil,” the follow-up to Uzodinma Iweala’s multiple award-winning novel “Beasts of No Nation,” centers around Niru, a talented Harvard-bound senior who is both a top academic and a star athlete.

However, when Niru’s Nigerian parents discover he’s gay, they take him out of his upper-class Washington, D.C., life and back to Nigeria for intensive therapy, transforming his life in the process.

No one at Niru’s elite private school knows he’s gay — except Meredith, Niru’s closest friend, a white girl whose parents are Washington insiders.

While she assures Niru his secret is safe with her, the two struggle to maintain their friendship as their lives move in different directions and the divisions between their worlds become more pronounced, as Niru observes at a student party: “I look at these kids laughing with each other, standing without jackets like even the cold can’t touch them and I don’t understand why there are people for whom rules and norms are fully optional, for whom foolishness is celebrated.”

Just when their friendship seems to return, a heartbreaking, violent act changes both their lives — and their families — forever.

Told through Niru and Meredith’s voices, “Speak No Evil,” is a gripping novel about identity, self-preservation and cultural misunderstanding.

Filled with powerful scenes exploring the dichotomies present when immigrant children visit their parents’ home country and when black students visit white students’ homes, Iweala succinctly unravels a complex, moving narrative that packs as much punch as an epic novel.

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Though “Speak No Evil” suffers some difficult transitions, particularly when moving from Niru’s voice to Meredith’s, these momentary blips don’t take away from the larger power of the novel, and may highlight the ways that life, and friendship, can turn in an instant.

A timely American novel, “Speak No Evil” shows once again that Iweala is an exciting young literary voice.

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