We All Have a Hunger in “You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty” – Chicago Review of Books


Five years after the death of her husband, visual artist Feyi Adekola is starting to come out of her shell, wondering if it’s possible to love again. After some casual dating, she starts a mostly platonic—but possibly more serious—relationship with Nasir Blake, a well-connected consultant. Feyi’s personal and professional lives are suddenly thrown into high gear when Nasir arranges a gallery showing for her in his Caribbean hometown. Processing her grief and figuring out what she wants next take on new urgency as Feyi meets artists and gallery owners, explores a tropical paradise, and, most centrally, finds herself attracted to Nasir’s father, celebrity chef Alim Blake.

It’s a significant stylistic departure from Akwaeke Emezi’s previous novels, which were more formally and stylistically experimental, surreal and striking and hard to classify. You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty is very much a romance. The novel doesn’t shy away from heavier topics—loss and grief shape multiple characters, and homophobia has scarred Alim’s family—but Feyi’s love life is very much the core, and it allows her, and the reader, to revel in happiness when it comes. Healthy, complicated hunger is a recurring theme, with Emezi displaying a delicious skill at both teasing out its fulfillment and dealing with the messy interpersonal complications. The island getaway is a bit obviously a fantasy, but that doesn’t impede the novel’s unrepentant and joyful celebration of success, of personal beauty, and of sumptuous music, art, and food.

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty is a strongly contemporary novel, leaning into modern slang and dialog, frequently referencing currently working artists, and with a refreshing and foundational concern for mental and emotional health. Feyi’s best friend, Joy, is a constant sounding board and reality check, and she’s open and matter-of-fact about her need to work through issues past and present with her therapist. Sometimes the emotional forthrightness of the novel struck me as a little unnatural: it’s a third-person narrative, and we’re often told Feyi’s exact feelings before it seems like she’s had time to process them. However, the overall effect is to keep the story pinned to someone working through big changes, not perfectly, but consciously.

After the spiraling, character-driven tragedy of The Death of Vivek Oji and the raw, visionary potency of Freshwater, it took me a minute to get into the swing of the romance structure in You Made A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty. Emezi’s character work is great, and the way the novel points towards happiness is an obvious strength, but the highly convenient elements of the romance take some getting used to. The smoothing away of all financial hurdles is one example: the life insurance from Feyi’s husband’s death covers her Brooklyn apartment and studio space, and Nasir’s undefined “consultant” job lets him jet-set around the Caribbean as desired. Alim is the chef and owner of restaurants successful enough to afford him a palatial mountain estate, but they don’t take up much of his time at this point.

These freedoms from material concerns allow us to focus on Feyi’s emotional and romantic journey (and on the luxurious setting) but I found the unrelenting wealth and privilege distracting at times. The servants who maintain these lavish lifestyles are nameless or invisible, and we really don’t get even a glimpse of life outside a very moneyed bubble—it’s not even clear which country Feyi is visiting. It all fits in innocently enough with the “billionaire romance” tropes, and the novel’s celebration of personal and material success, in the wake of loss and hardship, is one of its core strengths. But, coming from an author who has previously shown such skill at animating often-marginalized characters, this narrow focus on the lifestyles of the rich and famous feels limiting. And it’s mirrored in the way that the narration spends more time naming contemporary artists than it does describing anyone’s artwork: while Feyi herself feels intensely real, the world she moves in sometimes seems more surface than substance.

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Those concerns aside, the areas that are fleshed out absolutely land: the soundtrack, the sensual focus on food and bodies, the way Feyi’s relationships develop. The hardest part of talking about You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, as with many good romances, is avoiding spoilers. The latter half of the novel is packed full of drama, big feelings, and some very steamy developments, and it doesn’t lose sight of the way that grief itself doesn’t die, just—ages, changes. That reality doesn’t take away from how You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty points towards a happily ever after, just deepens and complicates it. Emezi is showing some really impressive range and versatility here, and knocks this romance out of the park.

FICTION
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty
By Akwaeke Emezi
Atria Books
Published May 24, 2022



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