ClassicThe Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo

The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo


Imagine Beyonce travelled back in time to third century London and wrote a book of verse about it. In my (probably unpopular) view this is @bernardineevaristo most impressive and imaginative work. This is Historical Fiction like you have never experienced. 

Zuleika is our fabulously feisty main character who genuinely is a voice for all time. She could be talking about her life today which I hope is an indicator of how accessible, hysterical and transcendent this book is. The daughter of Sudanese immigrants who have worked their way to a modicum of success, she is the teenage bride of Felix, a rich Roman businessman, thrust into a life of opulence and craving the hustle of the city she had when free. She has an affair with the emperor, Septimius Severus, and this is her story.

The first page of this book, written in glorious verse, stole my heart when I read this as a teen studying Latin. She describes Felix as a “hot-shot senator”, her days in the “flashy villa on Palatine Hill, it’s vast mosaic walls full of the scenes on Olympus, for my husband loves melodrama”. 

This is a bold, entertaining, sumptuous, lyrical triumph and will always be one of my absolute favourites. A book like this demonstrates the power of writing, the author brings to life and somehow makes the world of thousands of years ago feel so real and relatable you can almost hear the sounds of the forum which basically sound like Borough Market pre-lockdown. In the same line a known word in Latin will be used with contemporary slang and it is absolute genius. It will make you laugh, completely capture your attention, and also raise the darker moments of what it was to be a slave, woman, child at this time.

~ Chaya

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