And Then He Sang a Lullaby

A prophecy heralding a name-carrying boy in a family of girls manifested at the expense of a mother's life is a compelling hook to launch both a debut novel and the Roxane Gay Books imprint. In And Then He Sang a Lullaby, queer liberation activist Ani Kayode Somtochukwu anchors readers in the Nigerian boyhoods of August and Segun. The two meet as young men at university--one embracing his sexuality and revolution, the other hiding as best he can. A plot hinging on codified homophobia and the risk of falling in love with the cute boy at the cybercafé could sweep this narrative along on its own, but Ani's craft elevates this story beyond narrative ("he was enveloped with pangs of incompleteness, an almost, something he should feel that he never would, someone he knew enough to love but never met"). Family complexity and sacrifice blend with vibrant yet hidden love in a novel that doesn't explain Nigeria to readers--it simply is Nigerian.

After spending his life reckoning with the mere fact of his existence (and his mother's death at his birth), August is challenged by Segun's refusal to cower: "Segun did not want just to believe in revolution, he wanted to participate in building it." As August's shame dissipates, and his persistent sense of his mother-as-sacrifice fades, he begins to discover his true self. But the cost is high.

Like pressing a tender bruise, And Then He Sang a Lullaby leaves a sweet ache in its wake and does so with such fervor that it's easy to forget this is Ani's first novel. --Kristen Coates, editor and freelance reviewer

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