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‘You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty’ Review: Slow Start, but Stunning Read

4 Stars

The cover of "You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty."
The cover of "You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty." By Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
By Annika Inampudi, Contributing Writer

Coming off the success of the critically acclaimed “Freshwater” and “The Death of Vivek Oji,” Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi tackles the romance genre with their new novel, “You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty.” Ripe with paradisiacal imagery, “You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty,” is an elegant take on the modern love story, despite its slow start.

It’s been five years since Feyi Adekola lost her husband in a harrowing car accident, and she’s ready to start dating again. After an encounter at a rooftop party, Feyi finds herself drawn to the younger, impossibly handsome Nasir Blake. It’s the kind of romance that’s perfect on paper: He’s patient, and charming, and they look good together. But when Nasir invites her on a whirlwind trip to the Caribbean, Feyi finds herself falling for the one person that’s unequivocally hands off.

“You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty” is a novel that takes its time. The story lingers in New York for a moment too long as Emezi struggles with setting the course of Feyi’s journey. Nasir isn’t introduced as a character until a couple of chapters in, and their will-they, won’t-they romance feels superfluous. The core of the story is the inconvenience of the central romance; the romantic and narrative tension that arises between Feyi and her eventual love interest is what draws readers in. Scenes in the first quarter of the novel feel like they are simply stalling until the “real” plot begins. Since the bulk of Feyi’s character development and healing occurs later, it’s easy to want to skip over the first couple of chapters of the novel.

But, Emezi makes up for the slow start as soon as Feyi’s plane touches down in the Caribbean. Their affection for the island is obvious: Pages are soaked with sensory imagery, grounding the reader in the naturalist landscape of the island. Emezi’s magical realist roots come through in their descriptions of the island, writing of “soaring birds of paradise,” “kaleidoscopes of butterflies,” and “monkeys peering between the leaves.” Emezi flexes their descriptive skills as the protagonist luxuriates in a Caribbean estate, eating food prepared by celebrity chefs and attending art-world parties. It's almost like a dream, a phrase Feyi repeats multiple times over the course of the story. And parts of this book do feel like a fairy tale: the insta-love between Feyi and her eventual love interest, the grandiose lifestyle that Feyi finds herself in.

One must forgive Emezi for Feyi’s idealistic love story. Stories like these, where characters profess their love for each other within two weeks of meeting, where protagonists find themselves whisked away to a tropical paradise where they meet the man of their dreams, constantly populate the romance genre. “You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty” brings a fresh perspective. Characters in the novel are unabashed in their sexuality, and natural hair is spoken about with ease. In a genre permeated by white protagonists and white love stories, it is refreshing to see a queer Black woman take center stage. Feyi is given the room to make mistakes, she is allowed to feel beautiful, and most of all, she is allowed to be happy — something that doesn’t often happen to protagonists with similar identities in the romance genre. The strength of Emezi’s protagonist drives this novel; despite the trauma she has endured, she consistently chooses her own happiness.

Even with the novel’s slow start, Emezi’s three-dimensional characters and beautifully descriptive writing pull the novel together. One is propelled through Feyi’s dreamscape and comes out with a greater understanding of love, loss, and life. Above all, “You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty” is a stunning portrait of one woman’s search for beauty and life after trauma, and is an enjoyable read for anyone looking to pick up a book this spring.

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