It’s been 12 years since the publication of Uzodinma Iweala’s astounding debut, Beasts of No Nation, a novel of West African political unrest narrated by a child. With his second novel, Speak No Evil, Iweala once again allows a young voice to ring clearly, shattering assumptions and demanding attention for unavoidable truths—this time about being black, queer and the child of successful immigrants in the United States.
High schooler Niru, the son of affluent, conservative Nigerian parents in Washington, D.C., tries to follow his parents’ wishes (he’s attending Harvard premed next fall), and his sexual awakening as a gay man comes with self-loathing and shame. He begs God for deliverance, and after his father drags him to Nigeria to “cure” his homosexuality, Niru attempts to block out his desires. But then Niru meets Damien, who makes it impossible to ignore his true feelings.
The majority of Speak No Evil unfolds through Niru’s perspective, but there is a shorter, final section told by his best friend, a white girl named Meredith. Her section, set six years later, recalls a horrifying act of violence. For this tragedy to be told from a white heterosexual character’s perspective is a crushing blow to Niru’s story—who gets to have a voice, after all? But those who get the last word have the greatest responsibility, and for all the mistakes made in Niru’s life—by his family and by himself—and for all the wealth and security his family possesses, it does not fall to the black child of immigrants to fix the American system’s deepest cruelties.
This graceful, consuming tale of differences, imbalances and prejudices is necessary reading.