FICTION

And Then He Sang a Lullaby

Roxane Gay Bks.: Grove/Atlantic Jun. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9780802160751. $27. F
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DEBUT In this first novel from Ani, an award-winning Nigerian poet, essayist, and queer liberation activist, August sensed abandonment from the moment of his birth, his mother dead from labor and his father emotionally absent after the loss of his wife. The love of his sisters could not assuage his guilt or the burdensome responsibility of carrying on the Akasike name. Segun, in contrast, hailed from parents so committed to politics and each other that they dismissed the bullies who targeted their son’s effeminate mannerisms. Each boy entered his teens questioning his sexuality, August in a loving but unconsummated friendship that filled him with shame and Segun in an all-consuming physical affair that ended in tragedy, imbuing him with rage. When they inevitably meet at university, they circle each other warily, neither sure who the other truly is. Their achingly beautiful love story probes the fraught existence of queer people everywhere but particularly in 2014 Nigeria after the passage of the Same-Sex Prohibition Act. Faced with the scorn of their classmates and the threat of prison sentence, August and Segun navigate the shoals of their relationship in ways both devastating and inspiring.
VERDICT This inaugural title in Roxane Gay’s new imprint with Grove Atlantic is a compelling, mature work of narrative grace.
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