And Then He Sang a Lullabyby Ani Kayode Somtochukwu
A searingly honest and resonant debut from a Nigerian writer and queer liberation activist, exploring what love and freedom cost in a society steeped in homophobia
The inaugural title from the most buzzed-about new imprint in years, And Then He Sang a Lullaby is a powerful, luminous debut that establishes its young author as a masterful talent.
August is a God-fearing track star who leaves Enugu City to attend university and escape his overbearing sisters. He carries the weight of their lofty expectations, the shame of facing himself, and the haunting memory of a mother he never knew. It’s his first semester and pressures aside, August is making friends and doing well in his classes. He even almost has a girlfriend. There’s only one problem: he can’t stop thinking about Segun, an openly gay student who works at a local cybercafé. Segun carries his own burdens and has been wounded in too many ways. When he meets August, their connection is undeniable, but Segun is reluctant to open himself up to August. He wants to love and be loved by a man who is comfortable in his own skin, who will see and hold and love Segun, exactly as he is.
Despite their differences, August and Segun forge a tender intimacy that defies the violence around them. But there is only so long Segun can stand being loved behind closed doors, while August lives a life beyond the world they’ve created together.
And when a new, sweeping anti-gay law is passed, August and Segun must find a way for their love to survive in a Nigeria that was always determined to eradicate them. A tale of rare bravery and profound beauty, And Then He Sang a Lullaby is an extraordinary debut that marks Ani Kayode Somtochukwu as a voice to watch.
Shortlisted for the Association of Nigerian Authors Prose Prize
A Summer/Fall 2023 Indies Introduce Pick
“A remarkably beautiful and intimate story . . . from a new voice we are sure to treasure for years to come.”—Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books
“Absorbing . . . you don’t want to miss it.”—Karla J. Strand, Ms.
“An incredible novel.”—Sara Neilson, Shondaland
“Evocative, haunting and unflinching, And Then He Sang a Lullaby is brutally honest in its exploration of the effects of grief, violence and what it means to be straight-passing when your survival depends on it.”—Emily Van Blanken, Gay Times (UK)
“It’s hard to know where to begin when praising this extraordinary debut. [Ani is] . . . a man of unusual courage and self-belief. This story . . . will rightly be heralded as a powerful critique of homophobia and ignorance . . . it is a beautifully wrought love story with great emotional intelligence, rendered in some exquisite writing. It is from its character and authenticity that its real power comes.”—Jane Graham, Big Issue
“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, Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“Nigerian writer Ani’s auspicious debut chronicles the hope and pain of two queer students as they embark on a forbidden relationship at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka . . . This timely and striking love story resonates with authenticity.”—Publishers Weekly
“And Then He Sang a Lullaby interrogates love, secrecy, and a revolution in Nigeria . . . The novel shifts between [August and Segun’s] perspectives, revealing how religion, self-repression, colonialism, tradition and nonconventional relationships impact them both. August is pulled between his desire to be a good son, his pining for other men, and his fears of persecution and alienation; this leads to heart-wrenching scenes revealing longing, hesitance, and internalized shame. In the novel And Then He Sang a Lullaby, a man learns to love and accept himself despite dire circumstances and violent intolerance.”—Aleena Ortiz, Foreword Reviews
“A compelling, mature work of narrative grace.”—Library Journal, starred review
“And Then He Sang a Lullaby is driven by deeply-drawn characters and a clear sense of place. The novel will resonate with readers in the current moment of rising anti-LGBTQ legislation and violence.”—Laura Chanoux, Booklist
“A tender, painful story of survival which asks what it means to love—as a queer person and even more, as a human being, in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.”—Joanna Acevedo, The Masters Review
“I’m in awe of the way Ani Kayode Somtochukwu writes into the knot of love, bringing forth the steely tenderness of queer desire amidst great peril. This isn’t just a beautiful story, it’s deeply needed and liberating.”—Saeed Jones, author of Alive at the End of the World
“After reading this courageous, heart-in-mouth debut about the lives and loves of young gay Nigerians I can’t wait to see what Ani Kayode Somtochukwu writes next.”—Patrick Gale, author of Mother’s Boy
“This moving debut is a touching queer coming of age story, a poignant romance, and, most affectingly, a damning indictment of the hate and homophobia that are all too prevalent in the modern world.”—Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
“In stunning, luminous prose, Ani Kayode Somtochukwu captures how it feels to carry both the love and burden of family, and what it costs to bear the weight of revolutions — the ones happening inside of us and beyond. A beautifully written, captivating debut!”—Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
“And Then He Sang a Lullaby is a beautifully-drawn book, tender and moving. I adored being in the embrace of Segun and August, as they navigate the unaccepting world around them and their longing for one another. Ani Kayode Somtochukwu writes with an ease and a wisdom that belies his age. This is exactly the kind of writing that makes your heart soar and whimper in equal parts.”—Kasim Ali, author of Good Intentions
By Benedict Nguyễn
1. In some ways, And Then He Sang a Lullaby can be read as a novel-length pattern story: images, epithets, plot points, and relationship styles repeat as August and Segun come of age. This guide will identify some patterns, but what themes did you notice echoing over the course of the narrative? What structural decisions do you think Ani made in building this novel?
2. Before August and Segun meet, what narrative threads get carried forward chapter to chapter? What information about their lives is excluded from the narrative and to what effect?
3. Once August and Segun meet, the narration briefly recaps the other’s point of view on recent events. What do the complexities and contradictions of this braiding reveal about them individually and the tenuousness of their relationship?
4. What do characters’ curiosity and incredulity at August’s name reveal about him and his experience of the world throughout the novel? Why do you think Ani chose to show these moments in scene?
5. Discuss the evocation of primal emotions throughout the novel. Especially, how do August and Segun’s experiences of shame, rage, and grief differ? What gets hidden and what gets discussed openly, and why? How do they evolve from childhood to young adulthood? Consider, for example, the motif of the characters crying.
6. One of the ways the novel tracks time is via passing references to Nigerian government leaders. How does Segun’s parents’ engagement in Nigerian politics specifically inform his worldview as a child? How does the process of political education and organizing shape the novel?
7. How does the structure of Nigeria’s school systems and entrance exams affect August and Segun’s life chances?
8. August and Segun don’t meet until halfway through the novel. How do each of their experiences of queer friendship, romance, and sex described previously foreshadow or inform how their new relationship unfolds? What echoes repeat and what new dynamics are introduced? Consider Segun and Tanko’s relationship.
9. After August has another lapse in meeting Segun, he falls ill. The author writes, “August knew it wasn’t stress. His body was fighting his desires” (p. 150). What does this interpretation suggest about August’s self-conception? About human bodies in general?
10. How does the introduction of Betty’s character complicate the reader’s understanding of August’s sexuality? What do her popularity and success in sports represent for the novel’s depiction of university life?
11. How are the differences in class revealed and mediated in August and Segun’s relationship? How do they enrich or complicate Segun’s assertion that “class war is actual war, with real-life casualties, and the ruling class knows this and they do not give a fuck” (p. 199)?
12. When the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill is announced, why doesn’t August read the bill? What factors have led him to not take Segun’s concerns seriously?
13. From August and June’s watching soccer, to August meeting Timothy, to August’s own running aspirations, how is physicality portrayed in the novel? What do August’s aspirations represent for him?
14. Consider the varied family structures August and Segun grow up with. How does August’s mother’s death and his sisters’ expectations for him affect his choices? What seems possible with his relationship with his father? In what ways do Segun’s relationships with his parents contrast or echo August’s?
15. Discuss Segun’s assertion that “people like [Dike] are why we will never be safe in this country” (p. 203). When August comes out to Dike as bisexual, he suspects Dike already knew. Does it feel like alliances with people with known homophobic views might protect August beyond the timeline of the novel?
16. Early in August and Segun’s relationship, Ani writes, “[August] sometimes found it hard to understand Segun—the way he laughed even when saying things that should not evoke laughter” (p. 161). Why is this sense of humor harder for August to understand? What allows for humor, lightness, and joy to appear in the novel?
17. How does repeated homophobic violence affect August and Segun as they come of age and in the worldview suggested by the novel as a whole? What obstacles to and possibilities for resistance and freedom are intimated by their paths in life?
Suggestions for further reading:
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) by Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
A Beauty Has Come by Jasmine Gibson
A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Miss Major Speaks: Conversations with a Black Trans Revolutionary by Toshio Meronek and Miss Major