Iweala, Uzodinma. “Speak No Evil”, Harper, 2018.
Love And Violence
Being different is never easy and explaining it is also not as easy task unless you are Uzodinma Iweala who with complete mastery says so much of what has to be said and in few words. He explains so much about how we live today and he does so with great style. Here is a story about many kinds of love as well as many kinds of violence. With great compassion, Iweala looks at the cruelties that exist in a loving home through characters that say what they think and feel. We do not just meet the characters, they confront us. It al begins when a revelation shared between two privileged teenagers from very different backgrounds sets off a chain of events with consequences that are devastating.
When we meet Niru, he seems to lead a charmed life. He has been raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. He is headed to for Harvard in the fall, and his prospects look good. However, Niru has a secret and that is that he is queer and this is something that is “an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents”. No one Meredith, his best friend and the daughter of prominent Washington insiders is the only person who knows this and she does not judge him.
When his father discovers accidentally that Niru is gay, the fallout is quick and quite. Meredith is dealing with her own problems and realizes that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that attempt to define them, they understand that they are headed toward a violent and senseless future, something that they are unable to imagine. They will both be hurt.
“Speak No Evil” is an exploration of what it means to be different in a society that is fundamentally conformist and how that difference plays out in our inner and outer struggles. This 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. Iweala goes right to the core of our humanity and leaves us shaking. Think how many books have ever been able to do that to you.
This is not just a read, it is an experience that pulls us in and does not let us go even when the covers are closed. We see ourselves here and soon realize that we are part of what we are reading. It is a coming-out narrative that shows us how Niru moves from one identity to another and in the process has to deal with a tortured and torturous relationship with his father.
Iweala shows us how difficult it is to make a choice and how even more difficult it is to play several roles, Niru tells us that, ‘It’s too confusing for me to live all these lives when I want only one.’ We know we are heading toward unhappiness and tragedy and we feel it just as Niru does. The book has a great deal to say about white heterosexual privilege as Niru struggles to find his way. We see cross-generational and -cultural misunderstandings in a very American story that is a heart-wrenching look at what it means to be different within a family and society at large.