She Would Be King
A novel of exhilarating range, magical realism, and history—a dazzling retelling of Liberia’s formationWayétu Moore’s powerful debut novel, She Would Be King, reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three unforgettable characters who share an uncommon bond. Gbessa, exiled from the West African village of Lai, is starved, bitten by a viper, and left for dead, but still she survives. June Dey, raised on a plantation in Virginia, hides his unusual strength until a confrontation with the overseer forces him to flee. Norman Aragon, the child of a white British colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica, can fade from sight when the earth calls him. When the three meet in the settlement of Monrovia, their gifts help them salvage the tense relationship between the African American settlers and the indigenous tribes, as a new nation forms around them.Moore’s intermingling of history and magical realism finds voice not just in these three characters but also in the fleeting spirit of the wind, who embodies an ancient wisdom. “If she was not a woman,” the wind says of Gbessa, “she would be king.” In this vibrant story of the African diaspora, Moore, a talented storyteller and a daring writer, illuminates with radiant and exacting prose the tumultuous roots of a country inextricably bound to the United States. She Would Be King is a novel of profound depth set against a vast canvas and a transcendent debut from a major new author.

She Would Be King Details

TitleShe Would Be King
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 11th, 2018
PublisherGraywolf Press
ISBN-139781555978174
Rating
GenreFiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Cultural, Africa, Fantasy, Literary Fiction, Western Africa, Liberia, Literature, African Literature

She Would Be King Review

  • Dominique
    January 1, 1970
    "I'n mean to hurt you. I thought you mean to hurt me..."This is such a beautiful, magical read. I found myself completely engulfed in the retelling of the beginning of Liberia and felt so connected to my family, ancestors, and history in a way that simply took my breath away. This is a piece of historical fiction that I will carry on my spirit for a long time.The story starts in 1831 with Gbessa, the witch being exiled from her Vai village for being cursed. While she is shunned from everyone, th "I'n mean to hurt you. I thought you mean to hurt me..."This is such a beautiful, magical read. I found myself completely engulfed in the retelling of the beginning of Liberia and felt so connected to my family, ancestors, and history in a way that simply took my breath away. This is a piece of historical fiction that I will carry on my spirit for a long time.The story starts in 1831 with Gbessa, the witch being exiled from her Vai village for being cursed. While she is shunned from everyone, the ever-present wind guides her (yes, the wind is personified and a narrator), and through Gbessa's solitude she takes on the wisdom of her "curse" that she will never die. Her part was fascinating to read and gets the novel off to its fantastical start very well. From her relationship to herself, to her mother, to Safua the Poro warrior/king, there is no shortage of richness between these characters.Moving on, we meet June Dey through his parents and the village that brings him forth in the good ole South of the United States. In Virginia, we learn the story of the Emerson plantation, we meet characters that may not be who they say they are and this section needs very attentive reading to follow what's going on, but the birth of June Dey, and his journey to discovering his "gift" (gift and curse are interchangeable with these characters so it's all about perspective). And when this Luke Cage mofo gets going, whew chile, he had me all in my feels. I love, love, love this section with my whole heart because it got me to thinking about the necessity to empower ourselves, in the event that whatever is trying to destroy us will never cease, and the idea of empowering ourselves with that which ensures our survival forever and always. It's like who do I have to become, what do I need to do or believe about myself to survive this persistent storm that may never go away? And the magical realism of this was just...*chef's kiss*And then we meet Norman Aragon, the mulatto son of Jamaica, whose gift is his ability to be in this world and of this world. I got my first hearty laugh in this section and appreciated its ability to marry the conceptual dichotomies between the colonizers and the colonized, the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown. "It'll be no good. They burn peppers to eat with their meat and it's unbearable to breathe in, sir." 😂😂😂😂And then when our three characters come together in Liberia, my goodness I just want to have a class on this book. The history of Liberia's beginning is so well crafted with all the characters that come together from the American Colonization Society, the first Americo-Liberians, and the indigenous groups trying to figure out, "Who are all these people coming up in our area, o." Anyway, I love my historical narratives so much and this did not disappoint! The presence of all these forces, the build up of drama, the character arc of Gbessa, the relationship dynamics, the vision of a country where freedom and unity could exist puts this book into immediate must-read status.I'm not going to gush much more here (video soon come), but definitely read this book as soon as you can. It is exceptional. I'm so excited for Wayetu Moore's debut and can't wait to see how her offerings transform the literary canon. This is one helluva debut!
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  • Hanna
    January 1, 1970
    Wow. Just, wow. What a powerful and magical read. A retelling of the creation of Liberia featuring 3 heartbreaking and mystical characters; Gbessa who has the gift (or curse) of immortality, June Dey who has super strength and is bulletproof (similar to Luke Cage, but during slavery. Plus, I will NEVER stop feeling all of the things when consuming media about bullet proof black men), and Norman who, like his mother, has the ability to become invisible. Meanwhile, we're following the narrator who Wow. Just, wow. What a powerful and magical read. A retelling of the creation of Liberia featuring 3 heartbreaking and mystical characters; Gbessa who has the gift (or curse) of immortality, June Dey who has super strength and is bulletproof (similar to Luke Cage, but during slavery. Plus, I will NEVER stop feeling all of the things when consuming media about bullet proof black men), and Norman who, like his mother, has the ability to become invisible. Meanwhile, we're following the narrator who is the woman in the wind. Love, love, LOVED this. A retelling and criticism of colonialism and white supremacy. Easily one of my favorite reads of the year.
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  • Bethany
    January 1, 1970
    She Would Be King has a deeply mystical quality, punctuated by visceral episodes of brutality as it weaves a tale of oppression, magic, and freedom that spans an ocean. Part history, part magical realism, this book brings together an African witch cast out by her village, an American slave born in unusual circumstances, and a bi-racial Jamaican with a white rapist for a father, all with unusual abilities. The narrative tackles difficult subjects head on and has several beautifully written sectio She Would Be King has a deeply mystical quality, punctuated by visceral episodes of brutality as it weaves a tale of oppression, magic, and freedom that spans an ocean. Part history, part magical realism, this book brings together an African witch cast out by her village, an American slave born in unusual circumstances, and a bi-racial Jamaican with a white rapist for a father, all with unusual abilities. The narrative tackles difficult subjects head on and has several beautifully written sections, but it suffers from awkward narrative transitions, disconnected character narratives, dull and unnecessary passages, and a tendency to "tell" rather than "show" in parts. At times it feels as if the history and the issues are driving the narrative rather than the natural progressions of the characters.She Would Be King is a reimagining of the birth of Liberia that thoughtfully unpacks the atrocities borne out of prejudice across all segments of humanity, while also telling an empowering story about the possibility of black freedom. Gbessa is ostrasized as a cursed witch by her village, simply due to the day of her birth. June Dey is born into the racism and misogyny of the American south just prior to the Civil War. Norman is the violently conceived child of a white British researcher and a black Jamaican slave who carries the burden of white skin and a black identity. Even in Liberia where former American slaves are resettled, they create their own servant class and view native Africans as beneath them. The point is made than colonization is not limited to a single race, but is rather a condition of greed in humanity. Throughout this, we see constant misogyny and violence toward women. The stories of the three characters weave together in unexpected ways as each of them find a calling to defend the hope of true freedom for black men and women. June is inhumanly strong and cannot be harmed by bullets, so there is something deeply cathartic in seeing him fight to protect the vulnerable. Portions of this book were deeply moving and I wanted to love it in its entirety. Unfortunately, I was unable to. I did read an advance copy so it is possible some of my issues with the book were corrected in the final version, but I had a very inconsistent reading experience. Compelling and thought-provoking sections would be followed by chapters that were a struggle to get through. A bit more time spent on editing would have very much benefitted the story. However, given that it is a debut, I would be interested to read later work from the author. There is the beginning of something truly great here, but it gets bogged down in excess writing and lumbering transitions.
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  • Susan Henderson
    January 1, 1970
    This magical retelling of Liberia’s beginning is so original, so bold and poetic, Wayétu Moore is destined for comparisons to Yann Martel, Markus Zusak, and Paulo Coelho. Her unforgettable heroine, Gbessa, leads those who’ve been stripped of their homes and their language to rise up and defend not only their own futures but the memory of those who would never see freedom.
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  • Chris Roberts
    January 1, 1970
    They Bury the Faraway ChildrenRide red highway, child laying in the backseat, breathe, not breathe - shallowturn onto overgrown path, ground rock-hard, dig, dig - shallow, ride red highway. Chris Roberts, God Suddenly
  • Morgan McComb
    January 1, 1970
    It's hard to describe a novel as wholly original as She Would Be King: a re-telling of the birth of Liberia through interconnected stories, the novel is history, magic, and myth all in one engrossing story. Moore's novel takes you from West Africa to the plantations of Virginia, Jamaica to Liberia, weaving together the stories of three characters that yearn for power and true freedom. Guided by the ancient wind, all of Moore's characters challenge and transcend the many faces of oppression, and It's hard to describe a novel as wholly original as She Would Be King: a re-telling of the birth of Liberia through interconnected stories, the novel is history, magic, and myth all in one engrossing story. Moore's novel takes you from West Africa to the plantations of Virginia, Jamaica to Liberia, weaving together the stories of three characters that yearn for power and true freedom. Guided by the ancient wind, all of Moore's characters challenge and transcend the many faces of oppression, and its profound culmination will leave you in awe. She Would Be King is the kind of novel that lingers with you for days afterward until you feel so drawn to it that you have to experience it all over again. Moore's debut is a must-read!
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  • Terena
    January 1, 1970
    This is an absolutely beautiful novel and one of the best I picked up at BookExpo. SHE WOULD BE KING is a magical realism telling of Liberia's creation story. But to describe it that way doesn't do it justice: The novel portrays the injustice inflicted on African women across time and place without being preachy or overtly political. Instead, it uses the power of story to show how these women are no one's victims -- they are a driving, creation force.
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  • Megan Bell
    January 1, 1970
    A cursed witch from the Vai tribe who cannot die, a slave from Virginia with the strength of a hundred men, a half-white Maroon from Jamaica who can disappear at will, these three surprising characters find their way to each other and to a newborn Liberia to fight for liberty in this magical realist debut from Wakétu Moore. I’ve never read anything like this before, a fascinating way to learn more about history and specifically Liberia!
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