Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
Published by John Murray, 2018
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Speak No Evil is a book of contrasts, being at once subtle yet affecting, tender yet devastating, and tragic yet hopeful. It is testament to Iweala’s control that he can pull off this intricate balancing act, without ever losing focus on his plot or characters.
The book opens with Black 18-year-old Niru coming out to his white best friend, Meredith. Though she is supportive, his devout Nigerian parents are considerably less so. Defying their forced attempts to “cure” him of his so-called affliction, Niru continues to explore his true feelings and desires in secret. But the revelation also drives an unexpected wedge between the friends; as their lives start moving in different directions, resentment simmers, culminating in a violent incident that will have a profound impact on them and all those around them.
It’s difficult to talk about the full extent of the novel’s power without spoilers. Suffice to say, the climax comes about three quarters into the story, and it hits like a sledgehammer. From there, everything shifts – tone, perspective, themes, etc. – in a way that can feel somewhat jarring, but deliberately so. In various nuanced ways, Iweala explores identity, shame, the cost of silence, and the devastation that can come from suppressing our true selves.
Though I felt a couple of important side characters were oddly absent in the final chapters, resulting in some untapped emotional depth, I loved the time I spent with this book, and hugely admired what it had to say about friendship, love, and the difficulties of being queer and Black in modern America. Iweala writes with such grace, and in Niru, he has created a character I know will stay with me for quite some time.