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The Emperor's Babe Is More than a Babe

The Emperor's Babe - Bernardine Evaristo

The main character, Zuleika, is the Emperor's Babe. The Emperor doesn't enter until over halfway through the book.

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Evaristo's decision to keep Zuleika nameless, and connected to the Emperor, in the title, is intriguing. It seems to comment on the fact that although Zuleika is an interesting character with robust relationships and individual passions, she feels her story is being erased and subdued to what the men of her life chose to do with her, up until her reciprocated crush on the Emperor. That is when Zuleika starts to feel alive.


And her aspirations as a poet seem to be compelled forward by her feelings for the Emperor.

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Although her poetry in the book falls flat, the narration of the story told by her in verse shows the unlocked potential she had, that was interrupted by too much trauma at too young an age to flourish.



Overall, Evaristo's book plays with the social concept of race before the transatlantic slave trade. Ancient London didn't categorize the way we do now. So, Zuleika is the descendant of Sudanese refugees in Londiminium and her lover is the Emperor from Libya. Zuleika's slaves are red-haired women from Scotland, who speak in pidgin.


Zuleika's interaction with her slaves show the horrific relationship that develops when any person's liberty is taken from them. However, it also reminds the reader that slavery for the past several hundred years has been so deeply rooted in racism.