Book Review: Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

If you love fairy tales, but don’t always love the sexist baggage that comes along with them, then Love in Color is for you. In this short story collection, Bolu Babalola retells myths from around the world, sprinkling in some entirely new stories, too. The stories are diverse in every sense, spanning tones, genres, continents, and sexual orientations–and they’re always great. I loved this book.

cover description: a dark-skinned Black couple illustrated in a bold geometric style, dressed in bright colors, leaning toward each other as if they are about to kiss.

Love in Color is a confetti-firework explosion of romance and fantasy, as potent and memorable as an amazing first kiss with someone new. As a long-time follower of Babalola’s Twitter account, I wasn’t surprised that this collection was good, or that it was so unbelievably swoony and sexy. But I’ll admit I didn’t quite anticipate the depth of this collection, or its range. It veers from Princess Diaries-style rom-com stuff (“Psyche,” retold as a romance at a high-pressure job) to rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-on-it tragic romance (“Scheherazade”) that still never loses hope of a happily-ever-after.

In a lesser collection, these tonal shifts might make it seem unfocused. Here, they only make Love in Color more powerful, especially contextualized by Babalola’s terrific and emotional introduction, of which this quote particularly resonated with me:

“To say that I love “love” would probably be akin to me saying that I am quite fond of inhaling oxygen. Love is the prism through which I view the world. I truly believe it binds and propels us. This isn’t a naive denial of the darkness that we know exists in the world; rather it is a refusal to allow the devastation, the horror, or the heartache to consume us. It is affirming the knowledge that there is light. Love is that light.”

Culturally, we’re so inundated by hollow love-conquers-all messages that it’s easy to forget that love really is that special, that magical, in all its forms.

In my humble opinion, good romance shouldn’t just showcase romantic love–it should also be overflowing with loving friends and family. Here, too, Love in Color shines. Parents, siblings, best friends, enemies won over: Babalola populates these pages with it all. I especially loved her retelling of her parents’ romance, “Alagomeji,” which plays around with the very concept of protagonists vs. supporting characters. At risk of sounding a little cheesy (but who doesn’t like cheese?), “Alagomeji” reminded me that love connects us all, and that it never, ever ends. It flows through good times and bad, from ancestors to descendants, into futures we can never know. It was a reminder I definitely needed to receive.

In addition to the worthy standouts I’ve already mentioned, the two stories I loved the best were “Nefertiti,” which reimagines the legendary Egyptian queen as the widow of a persecuted gangster who finds love with an undercover agent sent to infiltrate her operations, and “Attem,” the story of a hunter and a queen who fall in love and must evade the retribution of the jealous king.

I wasn’t familiar with the source material for “Attem” (a story from the Calabar peoples of Nigeria called “Ituen and the King’s Wife”), but it didn’t matter at all–Babalola always gives just the right amount of context. Some stories stick fairly close to a real-life setting, while others, like “Nefertiti,” go for pure fantasy instead. If Babalola ever decided to write a whole novel about Nefertiti’s world of queer feminist gangsters and vicious sexist cops, I would be first in line to buy it.

People who hate romance love to mock the happily-ever-afters that define the genre, but Love in Color reminded me just how complex and diverse happily-ever-afters can be. Each ending surprised me, even if I knew approximately where we were headed. This isn’t some sugary-sweet comfort food dessert–it’s a whole comfort food meal, with the vegetables too. (Personally, I’m picturing caramelized brussels sprouts with a crust of parmesan.)

Love in Color is delicious–exactly the nourishment I needed after a soul-sucking year. ★★★★★

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Originally published April 23, 2021 by William Morrow (HarperCollins)

Buy it or add it to your shelf:

I bought my own copy of Love in Color and received no compensation of any kind in exchange for this review.

Review: HOUSE OF NAMES by Colm Tóibín

Monday Reviews

House of Names by Colm Tóibín

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

publisher: Scribner Book Company (imprint of Simon & Schuster)

publication date: May 9, 2017

A disclosure is in order: I didn’t finish this book and don’t plan to. As much as I’d have liked to write a regular Monday Reads review, I can’t do that on only 1/3 of a book, and I’m going to have to give you my bitter and half-baked observations instead. Consider yourself forewarned.

As my not finishing it implies, I really, really did not like this book.

Did. Not. Like.

Since House of Names is a retelling of the Ancient Greek story of Iphigenia, who is sacrificed to the gods by her father Agamemnon (causing her mother Clytemnestra to exact terrible revenge), I knew that horror and dread would be on the menu, but I didn’t anticipate the brutal extreme to which Tóibín steers this already brutal story. He pulls no punches from the original myth and seemingly adds punches of his own. And while I don’t mind books that are difficult to read, there’s a difference between difficult and tortuous. Every moment I spent with these astonishingly cruel characters was torture.

Compounding my discomfort with the material was Tóibín’s prose, the bluntness of which displaced me even further from characters I already despised. Perhaps this prose style would work better in a more familiar (read: modern) context, but because House of Names is set in Ancient Greece–a setting as alien to me as Middle Earth–all the words left unsaid obscured Tóibín’s meaning instead of clarifying it.

The story of Iphigenia’s sacrifice is full of interesting questions, the most pressing of which is What motivates a father to kill his own daughter? I imagine that there are a lot of equally interesting answers to be found, from feminist critiques to breathtaking thrillers, but all Tóibín seemed to bring to the table was, well, because humans are terrible and stupid! And that’s not good enough.

So, as much as I wanted to marvel at the ruthless beauty of paragraphs like this (told from the perspective of the furious and grieving Clytemnestra), I was left feeling poisoned by them instead:

I was ready as [Agamemnon] was not, the hero home in glorious victory, the blood of his daughter on his hands, but his hands washed now as though free of all stain, his hands white, his arms outstretched to embrace his friends, his face all smiles, the great soldier who would soon, he believed, hold up a cup in celebration and put rich food into his mouth. His gaping mouth! Relieved that he was home!

Because House of Names contains nothing but horrible people doing horrible things, there isn’t a scrap of hope or interest to hold onto, just suffering that goes on and on and on with no promise of catharsis.

And there are better uses of my time.

No rating / did not finish.

My copy of House of Names came from my local library and I was in no way compensated for this review.