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The Emperor's Babe

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,008 ratings  ·  133 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, daughter of Sudanese immigrants-made-good and restless teenage bride of a rich Roman businessman, craves passion and excitement. When she begins an affair with the emperor, Septimius Severus, she knows her li ...more
Paperback, 250 pages
Published February 24th 2004 by Penguin Group (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,008 ratings  ·  133 reviews

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K.J. Charles
What an amazing read. A verse novel about a black Roman child bride in 3rd-century London who becomes an emperor's mistress. The text is vivid to the point of fluorescent, mingling details of classical life with casually modern expressions and references (I especially liked this in the placenames, eg they go into the jungle at Bayswater); the cast of characters includes people of all kinds of origins, including the Libyan born emperor and our Sudanese heroine (JUST LIKE ROMAN LONDON ACTUALLY DID ...more
Anita Fajita Pita
So, "this is a book written in verse" is what you're reading in all the reviews of this book. What you aren't reading is that

this is a book that you forget
is written in verse.

so you just kind of plow through
three quarters of it

until something kind of sings out
and your eyes stutter

and you remember

that this is a book



I don't really have the right words to comment on this story. It's magical and lyrical and full of lust and love and sorrow. The commentary is feminist; it's moder
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2019
My latest book from Evaristo's earlier work is this verse novel set in 3rd century Britain. It is a playful book full of deliberate anachronisms. The verse is never very cryptic, which makes it a quick and entertaining read.

The heroine Zuleika is the daughter of an African trader, who marries her off at the age of 11 to a more important middle aged Roman, but she soon gets bored of life in his London villa and has an affair with the emperor Septimius Severus.
Gumble's Yard
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I could give him backchat, and anyway
I’d never write good poetry because what did

I know about war, death, the gods
and the founding of countries?

But you see, Dad, what I really want to read
and hear is stuff about us, about now

about Nubians in Londinium, about men
who dress up as women, about extramarital

peccadilloes, about girls getting married
to older men and on that note

Londoninium 211, Zuleika the young daughter of a black Nubian small businessman who fled to London as a refugee following
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Twoooo.......and a half? Idk.

Wow first of all I think the edition I had definitely had the best cover. But anyway. This book feels like somebody's thesis that didn't get enough of a tightening-up before publication. I love the core idea so much--the main character, Zuleika, is the daughter of Nubian immigrants to Roman Londinium, and the book chronicles her life through verse, since she's an aspiring poet--but this really feels like round one of something, where you find an old thing you wrote i
Peter Tillman
11-2-19: Liked this one from the start. Finally, a use for my HS Latin! Surprising how much comes right back: amo, amas, amat and all that. Zen Cho called it "smart and sharp and very funny." Good call. I liked the mix of details of Roman Britain with startlingly anachronistic dialogue. The best review I saw here is by KJ Charles:

12/15/19: at about 2/3 in, I'm losing interest: repetitious, and the historical incongruities are wearing thin. I'll finish i
3.5 really. This was not quite what I expected. I liked, but did not love it. It's daring and different, so credit for that, and I might get more on a second reading, which I may do someday, as it's only 250 pages. I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from reading this, especially those who might be interested in an anachronistic feminist mash-up of I don't quite know what, set in 3rd-century Roman-ruled Britain and done in free verse.
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When @penguinukbooks offered to send me two books for #BlackHistoryMonth I asked them to surprise me with their choices. Along with "Bone", this one arrived. I flicked through it and was immediately sceptical. I've never read a modern novel in blank verse and wondered to myself how this was going to go down. I needn't have worried. I was so engrossed that the format did not bother me one bit. *

Set in Roman London, the protagonist is Zuleika, born to Sudanese immigrant parents and is sold at age
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've mentioned here many times that I'm not a fan of poetry. But look at me now, Evaristo has made me read and enjoy a novel written in verse! It doesn't even rhyme, the verse is mostly in lolloping four-beat accentual syllabics, and the language, man, fuck! This woman is a freaking genius. I Am In Awe!
I usually don't share the synopsis anymore but the spoiler is in the title. The protagonist, Zuleika, a beautiful and feisty Sudanese woman, is married to an older wealthy Roman who is always awa
Karen Wellsbury
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, poetry
Set in London in Roman occupation, Zulieka is full of life and energy and wit.
The book mixes modern with old to great effect, Zuleika's friends Alba and Venus are just like her both hilarious, touching and sad.
The story of Zuleika's marriage at 11 and love affair at 18 is shocking, and her feelings are expressed so well.
All My Friends  Are Fictional
A timeless novel that, with a bit of avant-garde and a lot of imagination, takes it upon itself to challenge history. It's bold, it's funny, it's sexy. Mz Evaristo has done it again for me.
I have to admit, I am still getting use to reading novels told in verses. Some have been hits and others not so much. I enjoyed reading The Emperor's Babe because I wanted to get an appreciation for Evaristo's earlier works. I also like that Evaristo writes about a space and time in history that I have little knowledge about and made it it accessible and interesting.

Some parts I had to re-read just to understand what was happening, but overall I enjoyed the freshness and feisty characters in th
Nicholas Whyte
Dec 23, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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 Em
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Audacious, sassy, brassy, bold, polyglot, slangy and sublime...Evaristo's verse novel of a black girl in Roman London who briefly becomes the Emperor's babe is a wonder. All of the decadence of imperial Rome is evoked in its sick, lush glory, the eternal, multiracial slums and gentrifying neighbourhoods of London are painted in noisome detail and a tale of the hidden figures of history, of the girls and women and dark people, from slaves to emperors, we usually don't associate with classical his ...more
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Just fantastic, unique, un-put-downable. Funny, touching, magically charming. Narrative Verse that is lushly poetic and yet completely lviing and functional in the delivery of story - I didn't think anyone could write like this anymore.
Alfie Rowland
Let's head back in time to Londinium, AD 211 where we find a feisty, young, Nubian girl named Zuleika who doesn't realise how much her life will change when she becomes the teenage bride to a wealthy Roman man. Told in beautiful verse we follow Zuleika as she navigates marriage, friendships and maybe even some extra marital affairs after she suddenly catches the eye of the Emperor...

I devoured this book super quickly, partly due to it being verse but it was also equally gripping and at times ver
Li Sian
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it

(In all seriousness, Evaristo does something very good with poetry here, poetry and the ancients, who writes it, who's allowed to be good at it, who's allowed to narrate their own life, and what's considered highbrow, lowbrow, and canon)
Therése Åström
Jul 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first ever novel in verse and I enjoyed it very much. It was harsh in places, but interesting although I didn't like the MC overly much. Venus, on the other hand, great character!
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a lot of fun, despite handling some dark topics. Only thing I wish was changed was the disgust felt for fat people.
Mar 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Language and history lovers
Recommended to Gitta by: University
If you can appreciate good writing - a mixture of an unconventional style, unlikely protagonist - and can keep an open mind when it comes to modern poetry, this might turn out to be a wonderful reading experience. The words jump off the page! You only need to read the synopsis to know you've stumbled across a fresh spin on Roman historical fiction. A black young woman (teenager still?) in Londinium starts an affair with the Libyan emperor when her husband is away for months on end, spending time ...more
Yaiza Canopoli
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Super interesting book, explores sexuality, gender, and love in an Ancient Roman setting, with modern elements!
Aug 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Heidi by: 50books_poc
First verse novel I've read, and certainly not one that I'd intended to start with. I expected that one day I'd get around to reading some of Stephen Herrick's work, or Elizabeth Fensham, or Eva Sandall. But I was shelving books at work and came across this book by Bernadine Evaristo, a name I'd heard a lot on 50books_poc. And I looked at the blurb and read a little bit of the book, and it was like the book reached out and grabbed me. It's the most amazing combination of language and setting and ...more
Joanne Sheppard
May 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
The Emperor's Babe is a novel written in blank verse, set in Roman London. The narrator is a Zuleika, a girl born to Sudanese immigrant parents who, aged 11, is quite literally sold by her father to a wealthy man who wants her for his bride. Skip forward a few years and Zuleika is pampered materially but emotionally neglected, bored and unfulfilled - until she catches the eye of the Roman Emperor, Septimius Severus,

By far the most notable thing about The Emperor's Babe is its language, which is
Oct 25, 2014 rated it liked it
You gotta love the main character heroine. She's streetwise, quick as a whip, and honestly her voice, the things that she thinks and says, it's all just good fun. You laugh and you buy her character in her frustrations and her drive. However, I will say I was not too fond of the time skips. I feel like Evaristo subtly talks about important things.

Just an example, after Zuleika declares she will make the emperor his, suddenly not even a section or two later, we have Severus eating at her home and
Meghan Cooper
Feb 21, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Budding readers who are bored of the same conventional books
Recommended to Meghan by: Friend who absolutely loves this book
This book is written entirely in verse and it looks at how a young girl in roman times is forced into a marriage with an older man. It is full of symbolism and excellent decriptions. I thought it was really different from other books and I thought it was well written. On the other hand this book could have flowed better and could have moved at a faster pace. I also didn't understand some parts of the book so I didn't get lots of the full meaning.
Sep 10, 2020 rated it really liked it

Day 1 of #read22forrefugees

This novel is written entirely in verse and follows a young girl who is married to an old man by the time she is 11 years old. It is set in Londinium in AD 211 and Zuleika is more interested in hanging out with her friends; a gossip and a drag queen. Somehow, she catches the eye of emperor Severus and they begin an affair.

Written sometimes in Latin and sometimes in Cockney rhyming slang and sometimes in a hybrid of the two, t
Charles Edwards-Freshwater
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I had great fun with this one! Set during the Roman occupation of Britain and inspired by the knowledge that black people have been in the British isles since that time, The Emperor's Babe is a fast flowing verse novel that explores various aspects of roman culture, sexuality, society and more through a tongue-in-cheek witty narrative.

Zuleika is an excellent character and despite her youth manages to be a lively and interesting focus for the novel. Born effectively poor and risen to great height
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this and recommend it to everyone!!! Original, entertaining, funny and emotional - I’ve never read anything like this and I wanna read it all over again
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a delight! So clever and fun.
Wilde Sky
A novel in verse set in Roman London.

This was a random pick from my local library - I struggled through this book‎ and I found the format / verse was a big distraction from the plot.
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Bernardine Evaristo is the Anglo-Nigerian award-winning author of several books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora: past, present, real, imagined. Her novel Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019. Her writing also spans short fiction, reviews, essays, drama and writing for BBC radio. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University, London, ...more

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