Niru is in his final year of high school, and is bound for Harvard. The star of his school track team, with good grades, friends, and a bright future ahead of him, his ascent to greatness seems mapped out and impossible to ignore. Despite this, Niru is victim to inner turmoil which taints his thoughts and leeches into his outwardly perfect life. In a world of weighty expectations from his family, his church, and his culture, Niru is reluctant to acknowledge that he is homosexual. Despite efforts to the contrary, he can no longer suffer in silence, and when he comes out to his best friend, he feels for the first time the freedom and terror of speaking his mind, and embracing his own views.
Raised by conservative and religious Nigerian parents, Niru’s revelation triggers a brutal fallout that tests his love, faith, and future, and sets into motion a chain of events from where there is no return. Niru’s options seem to dry up as his desperation increases, until he can no longer bear it, and seeks escape.
Speak No Evil is a story so much greater than the sum of its parts. Poetic prose and tormented characters work together to unveil the dark side of expectation, and the heavy cost of deviation. To read this novel is to confront the truly tenebrous aspects of modern society – the assumptions we make based on wealth, race, gender, or religion; the bias towards the Other, and the terrible effects of ignorance and unwillingness. Speak No Evil is a glaring spotlight on the consequences of silence, and the devastating loss of things left unsaid.
Speak No Evil is a journey of the mind and spirit – to follow the narrative, we must be willing to examine our own faults; to poke at the sensitive places we keep hidden from view, and to acknowledge the discomfort which has become mundane and overlooked. Iweala masterfully demonstrates that the power of words, or the greater power of their absence, can unravel a life, a belief, or a society. All that is needed to halt the spread of evil is to spread truth and rebel against lies.
Once I had finished reading this book, I felt a profound loss – not at having left behind an immensely beautiful and poignant story (although that is undeniably true) but for the sudden, undisputed reminder of the countless times that hesitancy and silence have damaged unseen. If good literature is food for thought, this book will leave you full and slightly nauseated at your own gluttony. It is a triumph and an uncomfortable call to action that is both moving and mesmerizing. If you only read one book this year, let it be this. Embrace the heaviness that the book imparts, as it slowly travels from your fingertips to your heart, and be the reason such stories are spread, and that the events which inspire them are halted.
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala is published by John Murray, an imprint of Hachette Books, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.