Speak No Evil: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

A heartwarming and heartbreaking coming of age book is this; the story of a family who has emigrated from Nigeria to the States.  Outwardly, the family has all the trappings of the American dream; the son, Niru, is a first-rate student at a prestigious school both scholastically and athletically.  His parent are also successful in their chosen fields. What Niru hasn’t realized, at the age of 17, is that he is gay; and his best friend, Meredith, is at odds with him, since she’s in love with him.  Niru’s father finds a random text to a boy as yet unknown by Niru - and loses his conservative mind. He drags Niru back to Nigeria, where he is sure Niru will find his spiritual way back to being a “man”.  You will find Meredith and Niru’s love enduring and fleeting; and there is no way to go back, for anyone.

- Recommended b Katie D.

— From Staff Picks to Welcome You into Spring

Every once in a while a book gets you, gets under your skin, won’t let you go.

“Speak No Evil” is under my skin. I can’t stop thinking about it. It hurts. I want it to go away, and I don’t.

Niru and Meredith are seniors at a prestigeous private school in Washington, D.C. They are desperately drawn to each other, lives intertwined like the twisted vines of the gardens of the National Cathedral, but Niru’s secret draws boundaries between them.

A mistake, the simplest of mistakes, betrays that secret, and as we read, the world takes hold of them and hurls them like flotsam on a storm-tossed sea towards an ending we cannot imagine or anticipate.

Through this story, Iweala grapples with tough questions. Can there be such a thing as conditional love? Can we ever forgive ourselves for actions, or inaction, we can’t take back? How do we live with unbearable pain?

To tell this story, Iweala gives us deftly drawn characters. We see unimaginable conflict in Niru, anger, intolerance and love in his father, and desperation, innocence and longing in Meredith. Each haunts you as you turn the pages. You feel their laughter, their tears, their anger, their skin, as though it is your own. You sense their lingering presence when the story is done.

Uzodinma Iweala is a brilliant young writer. Every word matters. You read his prose slowly, almost aloud. Each paragraph, each chapter, reveals itself like the crocus emerging in the snow, secretly, surprisingly, astonishingly.

Iweala’s first book, “Beasts of No Nation,” won multiple awards. This one will, too. Read it.

— From Book Review: New Fiction Reveals Intertwined Lives the Reader Can’t Put Down

March 2018 Indie Next List

“'This is who I am.' 'This is what happened to me.' These are the simplest of expressions, yet the ability to speak them fully is a privilege not shared by the teenaged protagonists of this novel. Nigerian immigrant and Harvard-accepted aspiring doctor Niru is not able to tell his conservative religious parents that he is gay. The daughter of D.C.'s political elite, Meredith is not able to tell the world what really happened in an alley outside a bar on a hot spring night. Speak No Evil describes how loving relationships are strained, how trust is shattered, and how bodies can be broken when the truth is silenced. This heartbreakingly beautiful story will stay with you for a long time.”
— Jill Zimmerman, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Summer 2019 Reading Group Indie Next List

“We wouldn’t be a D.C. bookstore if we weren’t excited about Uzodinma Iweala’s new novel, Speak No Evil. Iweala deftly delves into the Nigerian immigrant community in D.C. with his teenage protagonist, Niru, a star student athlete at a prestigious private school whose secret of being queer is discovered and met with severe consequences. A story about the bonds—and limitations—of friendship, family, and culture, Speak No Evil delivers on every count.”
— Angela Spring, Duende District, Washington, DC


Winner of the Gold Nautilus Award for Fiction | A Lambda Literary Award Finalist | A Barbara Gittings Literature Award Finalist | An Indie Next Pick | A Barnes and Noble Best Book of the Month | A Library Journal Best Book of the Year

"A lovely slender volume that packs in entire worlds with complete mastery. Speak No Evil explains so much about our times and yet is never anything less than a scintillating, page-turning read."—Gary Shteyngart

"A wrenching, tightly woven story about many kinds of love and many kinds of violence. Speak No Evil probes deeply but also with compassion the cruelties of a loving home. Iweala’s characters confront you in close-up, as viscerally, bodily alive as any in contemporary fiction."—Larissa MacFarquhar

In the long-anticipated novel from the author of the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation, a revelation shared between two privileged teenagers from very different backgrounds sets off a chain of events with devastating consequences.

On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.

When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

In the tradition of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Speak No Evil explores what it means to be different in a fundamentally conformist society and how that difference plays out in our inner and outer struggles. It 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. As heart-wrenching and timely as his breakout debut, Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala’s second novel cuts to the core of our humanity and leaves us reeling in its wake.

One of Bustle’s 35 Most Anticipated Fiction Books Of 2018 | One of Paste's 25 Most Anticipated Books of 2018 | One of The Boston Globe’s 25 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018

About the Author

Uzodinma Iweala received the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, all for Beasts of No Nation. He was also selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. A graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, he lives in New York City and Lagos, Nigeria.

Praise For…

Speak No Evil is the rarest of novels: the one you start out just to read, then end up sinking so deeply into it, seeing yourself so clearly in it, that the novel starts reading you.”
— Marlon James, Booker Award-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

“The classic coming-out narrative describes how the central character makes a leap from one identity to another, into a different, freer life, while the classic immigrant novel depicts what it’s like to straddle two worlds, old and new, with a foothold in each. Speak No Evil is both and neither.... The soul of Speak No Evil is the tortuous, exquisitely rendered relationship between Niru and his father.”
The New Yorker

“A lovely slender volume that packs in entire worlds with complete mastery. Speak No Evil explains so much about our times and yet is never anything less than a scintillating, page-turning read.”
— Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure

“An evocative narrative and stark dialogue keeps Uzodinma Iweala’s Speak No Evil from a single dull moment.... His characters’ rawness and beauty overwhelm page by page, looping their two stories into one heartbreaking narrative, one that embodies and echoes the pains of current, broader inequalities.”
AV Club

“A timely story of friendship, secrets, and consequences.”

“A wrenching, tightly woven story about many kinds of love and many kinds of violence. Speak No Evil probes deeply but also with compassion the cruelties of a loving home. Iweala’s characters confront you in close-up, as viscerally, bodily alive as any in contemporary fiction.” 
— Larissa MacFarquhar

“Iweala unwinds crucial issues of choice and the burden of playing multiple parts; says Niru, ‘It’s too confusing for me to live all these lives when I want only one.’ Throughout a narrative spiraling toward tragedy, Niru’s pain is so palpable it will make you gasp…. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal, starred review

“In Uzodinma’s staggering sophomore novel (after Beasts of No Nation), the untimely disclosure of a secret shared between two teens from different backgrounds sets off a cascade of heartbreaking consequences…. Speaks volumes about white heterosexual privilege.... Notable both for the raw force of Iweala’s prose and the moving, powerful story.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A searing take on the notion of home, and the struggle to be at home with oneself.... Speak No Evil deals with less epic subject matter [than Beasts of No Nation], but there’s subtle power in its intimacy and in its depictions of the violence we do to each other and to ourselves.”
Seattle Times

“Delivers with immediate poignancy Niru’s struggles…. A later shift in narration allows a different and perhaps more complete picture of Niru, which Iweala also handles elegantly. Portraying cross-generational and -cultural misunderstandings with anything but simplicity, Iweala tells an essential American story.”
Booklist, starred review

“Heart-wrenching .... A visceral but compassionate portrait of what it means to be different within a family, let alone society at large.”
Washington Blade

“Iweala stirringly brings to life a young man at war with himself in this moving new novel.... Speak No Evil isn’t an easy read. It is, however, compelling, sensitively told, and satisfying.”
Lambda Literary

“A haunting story about identity and power.”
Paste Magazine

“The story unspools as quickly as running star Niru can clip around the track, building into a classical tragedy with modern flair.... The talented Iweala has fashioned a heart-rending story of teenage love that turns on the technological trappings and persistent prejudices of contemporary life.”
Dallas Morning News
Product Details
ISBN: 9780061284922
ISBN-10: 0061284920
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Pages: 224
Language: English