Akwaeke Emezi’s “You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty” Book Review

For Akwaeke Emezi, their next book was supposed to be a soft landing. They had just finished writing their second YA novel, bitterwhich grapples with racial injustice, revolution, and trauma, and their debut poetry collection Content Warning: Everything, which also explores the acclaimed writer’s relationship with home, chosen family, surviving abuse, and claim. The fact that they wrote those books in 2020, amidst Covid-19 lockdowns, racial tensions, and protests over the killing of George Floyd and the death of Toyin Salau was heavy. Delving into the gentle and mildly complicated world of romance seemed like the perfect escape.

You Made A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty turned out to be a subversive romance novel that also demanded some level of depth of its own. β€œIt was meant to be more fluffy than it ended up,” Emezi says over Zoom. β€œI wasn’t really planning for the theme of grief and death to be so present in the book, but it’s what the characters wanted. So I was like, okay, you know, to be fair, this is, what real life is.”

As one of Nigeria’s leading queer authors, Emezi’s works span several genres and artistic disciplines. Alongside publishing seven books, across literary fiction, young adult fiction, poetry, and now romance, they serve as an executive producer for the onscreen adaptation of their debut novel Fresh water. Their work centers queer characters in disruptive and other times, normalized forms, without fanfare or difficult character arcs. This tends to position their works as a template on how things should be, rather than a reflection of the current times or sometimes, a guide on how things can be. At the end of the day, however, Emezi is interested in their books facilitating relevant conversations.

For many young Nigerians and young people around the world, Emezi’s works represent a world of possibilities crafted with radical imagination. In Nigeria, their books are widely read and sought after. their debut, Fresh water, was one of 2018’s most anticipated books. It would go on to be a finalist for the 2019 Young Lions Fiction Award. That same year, their debut Young Adult book Pet was a finalist for the National Book Awards under the Young People’s Literature category. In 2021, they were also honored as one of TIME Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders.

Fool Of Death is a shimmering return to the bookshelves that pushes the needle on what romance novels can be. It follows Feyi, a Nigerian-American artist navigating the consuming grief of losing a young love and coming to terms with what it would cost to find love again. With the title inspired by Florence + The Machine’s Hunger, Fool Of Death raises a simple yet complicated question: do we have enough bravery to move towards the things that make us feel the most alive?

In the book, Feyi visits an idyllic tropical island to show her work in a coveted exhibition, where she ends up falling in love with Alim, a widower and the father of the man, Nasir, who invited her to the island and for whom she had initially felt inklings of deep affections while they were in Brooklyn. What unfolds in the rest of the book is a delicate dance between desire and devotion, love and loyalty, and the question of what is morally wrong versus the extent to which the quest to find healing can take us.

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