Saturday, July 27, 2019


Speak No Evil is the 2nd novel by the Nigerian author, Uzodinma Iweala.  Although not yet a best seller, it has already won a number of literary awards.

This book moved me more than anything since Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Little Match Girl.   The story is about many things namely homosexuality, racism, the coming of age, the relationship between a boy and his father, cultural differences, and the propensity for hearsay and the media for misrepresentation and invention.

Niru, a sixteen year old Nigerian boy, comes to Washington D.C. with his wealthy parents, who place him in an exclusive private school. He   is the only black in a small class of fourteen.  Niru relates most of the story

Meredith comes to Washington with her parents leaving a boyfriend in New York. She is in the same class as Niru and becomes attracted to him.  Their teacher is Mitch McConnell, a woman who has been all over the world. This book has many metaphors only a few of which I understand. Niru and Meredith become friends, visit each other’s family, study and run together sometimes competing. A year later, a blizzard hits Washington interrupting transportation.  Mitch McConnell dismisses the class, and Meredith invites Niru to her house where they are alone.  After some kissing, Meredith disrobes completely.  Niru has never seen a naked woman. She proposes they have sex, but to her surprise Niru refuses.  Hurt and angry, Meredith insists on an explanation.  Niru tells her he thinks he might be gay.  He prays in vain not to be gay.

Meredith surreptitiously loads his cell phone with many gay apps and sends him away.  She doesn’t respond to Niru’s calls for almost a year. Niru’s father finds his cell phone, is enraged, and demands an explanation. In Nigeria Homosexuals are detested and considered unclean.  His father continuously berates him. Eventually, Niru runs away from his family.

Niru is on the track team. No one can beat him in practice sessions,  but he fails to win in a competitions. His coach urges, “You have to really want to win.” In one competition, Niru sees his father watching and manages to win that race.  His father calls ,“I’m proud of you”, which pleases Niru.

Niru has no friends. He is physically attracted to Damian, a gay college boy. Damian invites Niru to his apartment and proposes they have sex.  “I can’t do this,” Niru says. “It’s unclean, and I’m not unclean.” Niru leaves the apartment.

Niru and Meredith are now seniors. Meredith becomes friendly with Niru again, and they study and run together. Niru wants to be a surgeon and applies to Harvard.  Meredith applies to Harvard Law School. “Maybe we’ll see each other at Harvard, “ she says.  “And when we’re finished, we can go out west somewhere and live together and raise bi-racial kids.” Niru does not respond. They spend a lot of time together. Meredith realizes she cares for him. They go out drinking and sometimes have friendly quarrels, pushing each other around.  On one such evening, Meredith playfully pushes Niru away.  As he moves to embrace her, a tragedy occurs.  Meredith is confused. Suddenly there are police cars and ambulances. Meredith is taken to a hospital. “Where is Niru?” she asks, but her question is ignored.  When she learns what has happened, she accepts guilt.

“It was my fault, I shouldn’t’ have pushed him, but nobody pays attention to her. By the next day, word of the shooting has leaked.  There is a student protest in Washington. Somehow the story has gotten out that Niru was trying to rape her. The media gets the story and soon it is all over the country.

Meredith relates the rest of the story, trying in vain to explain the truth. She feels she cannot continue to live with this misjudgment of Niru.

One of the reviewers of the book wrote, ”It broke my heart.” Maybe I’m too sensitive to some of these things, but I will never forget this book.