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» » The Emperor's Babe
The Emperor's Babe

The Emperor's Babe

Bernardine Evaristo
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1135 kb
ePub book size:
1840 kb
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4.2 of 5
Penguin Books (February 24, 2004)
Genre Fiction
“Lots of fun . . . like an episode of Sex and the City written by Ovid.”—Kirkus Reviews   Bernardine Evaristo’s tale of forbidden love in bustling third-century London is an intoxicating cocktail of poetry, history, and fiction. Feisty, precocious Zuleika, a restless teenage bride of a rich Roman businessman, craves passion and excitement. She wanders through his villa, bored, or sneaks out to see her old friends, seeking an outlet for her creativity. Then she begins an affair with the emperor, Septimus Severus, remembered to history as the “African Emperor,” and she knows her life will never be the same. Streetwise, seductive, and lyrical, The Emperor’s Babe is a “glittering fiction” with a “heroine of ancient times for the modern age” (The Times).   “The adventures of a sassy, sexy girl about town . . . Funny, engaging, and a daring evocation of the possible genesis of black British history.”—The Independent on Sunday   “Smart, imaginative, and readable . . . A rich farrago of historical fact and outrageous fancy.”—The New York Times Book Review   “Zuleika leads us on a riotous, racy whirl through Roman Londinium—while displaying her lyric gift throughout, and at last her heartbreak to the core, and her own embrace of doom. . . . a captivating tale in verse.”—Robert Fagles
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5 Reviews
  • I had to read this book for a seminar I was going to attend. Not being a great poetry reader I did not expect to enjoy it. I read the book in one session, and after the first few pages did not remember that I was reading poetry. It flows really easily, the language making it very easy to dive into the strange world of the author's Roman London. The modern slang and approach make the setting familiar in some ways, and then the very different customs of the period bring the reader up short. The scene set at the local "games" needs a strong stomach to read. Highly recommended.

  • I had to read this book for a class--it was beautifully disturbing but worth the read. the only thing I had issues with is receiving this package-never got it.

  • I'm very happy I discovered this little-known book; I don't even remember how I first came across it. Regardless, it's one of the best "new" things I've read: a novel-in-verse from 2001 by Bernardine Evaristo about a young African woman in Roman London. This is a book filled with witty anachronisms, a deep heart, and lively poetry. Sadly Emperor's Babe appears to be out of print in the US, but used copies can be had for cheap. If you head over to Amazon's UK page you'll find the book is still in print on that side of the pond, and you'll also find two great reviews from Kirkus (great save for the comment by the Kirkus US reviewer, who loglines Emperor's Babe as "An episode of Sex and the City written by Ovid," apparently not realizing that Ovid wrote Amores and Art of Love, both of which ARE "Sex and the City written by Ovid").

    Evaristo is a good poet, and her verses can easily be read as prose for those who are not poetically inclined. She keeps the narrative moving even though there isn't a whole lot of story. In a nutshell, we open in 204 CE with 11 year-old Zuleika, who's grown up on the streets of Londinium. As an African she stands out in a crowd; Zuleika's parents are immigrants from Sudan, and have come here to reap the benefits of a blossoming economy. Mostly ignored by them, Zuleika hops around town with her same-aged galpal Alba and her older friend Venus, a transvestite who runs Mt. Venus, a club which caters to fellow trannys.

    One day Zuleika's spotted by Felix, an uber-wealthy Roman who has a villa in London (as well as several others around the Empire). After an arranged marriage which Zuleika's none to fond of, she withers away for a few years, a kept woman, sequestered in Felix's villa while the man himself is out gallivanting about the provinces. The story picks up a few years later, in 211. Zuleika, now 18, is close to the boiling point, frustrated with her boring life, missing her youthful exploits with Alba and Venus. Then one day at a theater performance she's spotted again, this time by visiting emperor Septimus Severus, who throws ga-ga eyes her way. Soon they are engaged in a torrid affair.

    What makes the book so special is the anachronistic verve with which Evaristo writes. The gulf of time disappears between Zuleika's era and ours when we read that she's sent flowers from "Wild @ Heart, a trendy flower boutique," when Zuleika and pals watch a proto-punk band (complete with lead singer "Mad Marcia") perform at Mt. Venus, when we meet an African poet named "Manumittio X" who writes revolutionary verse which always begins with "Take these chains from my heart" and ends with "I just wanna be free." Not only this, but playful references to Armani and current pop culture and current British slang pepper the book, and rather than coming off as annoying it instead puts a big smile on the reader's face.

    The characters are all fully realized, especially Zuleika - though this should be expected, as she narrates, her voice carrying the story. Septimus Severus comes off like the harsh-speaking ruffian he most likely was, though the book (and its back cover blurbs) misleads by referring to him constantly as "The African Emperor." This leads an uninformed reader into believing Severus was black, when in fact he was as caucasian as Caligula, despite his African birth. (Please note I state this only for historical clarity.) Alba is a tomcat who bickers with Zuleika endlessly, and Venus is a mentor with a heart of gold and a cache of one-liners. Even Felix comes off as likeable, despite that Zuleika says he's "thrice my age and thrice my girth," despite that he sequesters our heroine into a boring world, and despite that he engenders the tragic ending which casts a pall on what is otherwise a candy-colored romp through Roman London.

    So then, a poem-novel to be enjoyed by a wealth of readers, from Classics buffs to chicklit fans to those who look for anything out of the norm. The narrative moves at a brisk pace, the anachronisms delight, and the characters stay with you. Decades ago Fellini boasted that his film "Satyricon" was a science fiction movie, only taking place in the past rather than outer space; Bernardine Evaristo can lay a greater claim to having accomplished this: her story takes place in a world utterly alien yet somehow familiar. Seek out, read, and read again.

  • It's been a while since I've been knocked off my feet by a book in way The Emperor's Babe did. Maybe not since I read Rimbaud at highschool... Proverbs keep flying through my head when I want to describe the book: funny, intelligent, sophisticated, heart-warming, etc. etc. What struck me first (of course) was the verse. Steady two line most of the time, but changing pace in more intimate sections and by that changing atmosphere at once. The book is somewhat of a classic lyrical epic and bc of that rhythm it grips you from the first pair of lines, and (I have to say this) it swings!!
    Second: the main character, Zuleika, is a welcome apparition in present-day literature. Zuleika is tough, smart and gets what she wants. No whining like Bridget J. or all the other 30-ish single women-books and definitely nothing of the "I've lived through it all" Oprah-books. Zuleika's got a certain sense of girl-power (sorry for that word) and that makes you love her from the start.
    And then the story: London 211. It's dirty, rotten and sexy. But that's all I say, just go and read. And after that go and look for her first book "Lara". You won't be sorry...

  • I bought this book with low expectation for both the poetry and the story. I'm happy to say that I was wrong. Emperor's Babe is sexy, stylish and just the most original book I've read in ages. The heroine is a tough little customer, a hip Afro Roman living in Londinium who meets the man of her dreams and loses everything else. By the time you come to last page I promise that you will be moved by her story.