A high-born Nigerian Goddess feels beaten down and unappreciated by her gregarious lover and longs to be truly seen.
A young businesswoman attempts to make a great leap in her company, and an even greater one in her love life.
A powerful Ghanaian spokeswoman is forced to decide whether to uphold her family’s politics, or to be true to her heart.
Whether captured in the passion of love at first sight, or realising that self-love takes precedence over romantic connections, the characters of Babalola’s vibrant stories face up to and navigate this most complex human emotion and try to capture its intangible essence. Bolu takes a step in decolonising tropes of love and creates new stories inspired by the wildly beautiful and astonishingly diverse tales of romance and desire that already exist in so many communities and cultures.
Transporting us across continents and perspectives, this collection shows that humanity – like love – comes in technicolour.
This stunning debut by Bola Babalola was everything I needed and more.
Romance novels evoke so much joy in my heart. They literally feel like a huge hug on a bad day. It’s my go-to genre for escapism and it’s never failed me.
Reading about happiness and becoming invested in a character’s joy only leads to satisfaction when that’s fulfilled. So imagine doing that over and over again…amazing right?
So a short story collection about love was incredible. This was Black joy. The eloquence and lyrical prose of each story entwined to create a beautiful ode to romantic love.
There was something so incredibly powerful about this collection. Bolu Babalola took myths and folktales from all over the world and somehow managed to create new, current and diverse tales, whilst keeping to the true essence of each story. We had a reimagined Olympia in a corporate office setting and Ancient Egypt in an underground club. She explored themes of trust, self-love, independence, secrecy and so much more. These are all crucial elements to both a romantic relationship but also the love you have for yourself.
I loved how self-love was explored and paralleled to romantic love as equally important. There was an emphasis on loving yourself first and foremost. The foundations of a strong relationship rely on you to be sure in yourself first before you even begin to build with someone else. However, Babalola acknowledged that sometimes your significant other can aid in making you a better person. They make you want to change for the better. It’s a beautiful sentiment.
Babalola’s ability to develop her characters and create a story to become invested in after a few pages is incredible. Each story had my heart but in particular, I loved Osun, Attem, Nefertiti and Naleli. I was also deeply moved by Alagomeji, which was clearly the love story of how the author’s parents met. I was amazed at how rich each story was. I desperately wanted every story to be longer…not even just into a novel. I would have loved a series for each and every story created.
I think the reason why this short story collection resonated with me so much was because black and brown women were at the forefront of these stories. It was a reminder that Black joy does sell. It’s a faraway cry from the black pain narratives of slavery and segregation. This was the true essence of cultures around the world unfiltered and unapologetic, without the influence of colonialisation trying to silence it.
These were voices shaped by history, culture and community.
This was representation.
Arguably, the reinvention of these stories can suggest that these stories aren’t unfiltered. However, Babalola herself says:
“Many of the original folktales and myths…were rife with misogyny and violence and were created within heavily patriarchal context.” – Bolu Babalola, Author’s Note
The difficulty in trying to keep the essence of the original story whilst eradicating all the problematic influences is something that can’t go unnoticed. Therefore, I can only praise how well written these short stories are. The pace wasn’t too slow and the writing wasn’t chunky. There’s tendency with romance novels to rush the relationship on, making it very unlikely and highly predictable. Whilst I think predictability is something most romance novels cannot get away from, Bolu Babalola never rushed any of her stories. Every relationship seemed very natural despite how short the stories were.
I guess the only small issue I could see with this collection was that the trope of romantic love may get boring very quickly but I guess it depends on whether you like that kind of thing. This collection was humorous and very well created, I would love to see so much more from Babalola in regards to a full-length novel. It is clear that she could be exceptional.
I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt so it was no surprise that Nefertiti’s story stood out to me. Firstly, I never would have imagined Nefertiti as a queer queen of an underground club run by women for women. She also uses the underground club to run a society that punish men who harm women. Thrown into this short story are current issues such as what society determines as right or wrong – and how it’s normally to benefit those who are privileged compared to people that aren’t. She raises questions of justice from this. If justice is written by the privileged is it really justice or a tool used to gain more power over the less vulnerable? We see themes of abuse of power and even police brutality. It’s so cleverly thought out that I had to take a minute to think about just how different it is to what I would have expected.
Naleli’s story resonated with me differently. Whilst Nefertiti’s story intrigued me, Naleli’s story was a story about confidence and self-love. Loving your skin and who you are can lead to so much happiness. Babalola says that it’s based on the story entitled ‘How Khosi chose his wife’ within which a woman’s extreme beauty is hidden by her parents with a cloak of crocodile skin. Khosi sees her without her crocodile skin when she is bathing and proceeds to fall in love with her, eventually marrying her. Whilst the original story is creepy and almost predatory in some aspects. Babalola paints Naleli as a young woman with vitiligo. She deals with bullying and a lack of self-confidence because of it. However, Bablola reveals how she learns to love her skin without having to remove anything, except the fear of being rejected for her appearance.
As I mentioned before, there’s a sense of empowerment throughout this collection regardless of the typical romantic trope. Each woman is made to feel empowered but rather than having them rely on a man to do it. They find who they are and they learn to love and respect themselves because of it.
Happiness is seen to be a choice.
A joy every woman can choose to have if they let go of what’s holding them back.