SPEAK NO EVIL is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read. The pitch-perfect execution of this novel was simply breathtaking. It’s hard to really even grasp how necessary, timely, and important this novel is.
What makes SPEAK NO EVIL so captivating is how Uzodinma Iweala, author of the acclaimed BEASTS OF NO NATION, wields his characters’ privilege. Meredith is a straight, white female and Niru a gay, black male. The two are best friends, and the bulk of the novel’s conflict stems from the repercussions of Niru coming out to Meredith. This revelation instantly changes their friendship and sets off a chain of events that result in a devastating amount of pain.
When Niru’s traditional Nigerian parents accidentally find out that Niru is gay, the consequences are brutal and devastating. In their wake lies a shattered Niru. Confused and resentful, his relationship with Meredith sputters. They aren’t sure how to resume their friendship. How can they share their troubles now when they are so radically different? How can Niru stand to listen to Meredith’s college woes as he grapples with his sexuality and his family’s severe judgment? Iweala describes his characters’ suffering so viscerally and truthfully that I was left stunned.
This is so much more than a coming-out story. It is an exploration of masculinity, family, and identity—traits that appear in many other coming-of-age stories regardless of the character’s sexual identity. The fact that Niru is gay only adds a layer of complexity.
SPEAK NO EVIL is the pinnacle of what literary fiction aspires to be. It adds to the current cultural dialogue in a timely way, but it’s also just a fantastic story with flawless prose.
I could say that this a perfect book for book clubs, an obvious choice for fans of literary fiction, a well-written novel, or any other number of identifiers. While I do believe these statements ring true, I think this book is much larger than any one. SPEAK NO EVIL provides an incredibly authentic point of view deserving of empathy. And finding and creating empathy is timeless.