April Books 1) The Emperor’s Babe, by Bernardine Evaristo

Zuleika, the narrator of The Emperor’s Babe, is the daughter of Sudanese immigrants in London in the very early third century; she is married aged eleven to a Senator, and several years after starts a relationship with the visiting Emperor, Septimius Severus. I knew a little about him from Gibbon, who writes of him rather disapprovingly in Chapter V of Decline and Fall, though is more positive about him in Chapter VI when he goes to kill the Scots.

The Emperor’s Babe is a rather startling book. Evaristo apparently composed it while writer-in-residence at the Museum of London and it breathes an intimate connection between the Roman city and today’s geography – she uses mainly modern streetnames and toponyms, and has Zuleika a citizen of the racially and sexually diverse metropolis, attended by her Scottish slaves, educated by her husband to the point where she writes and recites her own poetry. Evaristo uses the setting to explore various obvious themes of race, class and gender, and does it vividly and thoroughly. Also her Septimius Severus comes to life as a much more sympathetic character than Gibbon’s portrayal, though still believes in astrology.

The whole of The Emperor’s Babe is in verse. For some reason I had not retained this fact from the reviews I had read on which inspired me to get it in the first place. It is a series of short digestible narrative vignettes, none more than a few pages long. Probably some of them refer to poems of the Classical era which I don’t know, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment. I have a couple of other books of verse on the list for this month, so this has broken me in gently.

One thought on “April Books 1) The Emperor’s Babe, by Bernardine Evaristo

  1. I’m busy wrestling with ‘how best to change the world’ at the moment, and the two things at the top of my list, both of which feel like they’re in the ‘too difficult’ category, are:

    — fix the NHS’s IT system so it doesn’t want to make me kill people every time I interact with it: and

    — fix the shipping/courier business ditto.

Comments are closed.