STARRED REVIEW
September 2018

Strange powers in a new nation

By Wayétu Moore
Review by

“Fengbe, keh kamba beh. Fengbe, kemu beh. . . . We have nothing but we have God. We have nothing but we have each other.” This is the refrain of She Would Be King. Wayétu Moore’s debut novel is more than an imagining of Liberia’s mid-1800s beginnings; it is a magical account of ongoing, individual and collective independence from oppressive forces.

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BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, September 2018

“Fengbe, keh kamba beh. Fengbe, kemu beh. . . . We have nothing but we have God. We have nothing but we have each other.” This is the refrain of She Would Be King. Wayétu Moore’s debut novel is more than an imagining of Liberia’s mid-1800s beginnings; it is a magical account of ongoing, individual and collective independence from oppressive forces.

She Would Be King begins with distinct storylines about three cursed characters: Gbessa in Africa, June in Virginia and Norman in Jamaica. When she comes of age in the village of Lai, Gbessa is sent into the forest, where she’s expected to die from a snakebite but instead discovers her power of resurrection. Abandoned at birth, June is called “Moses” by his adoptive mother, a slave. Defending her against the plantation owner’s wife, June discovers his superhuman strength for which he is then banished. Norman is the son of a Maroon “witch” who can become invisible at will, and his British father wants to take advantage of this special power shared by mother and child. Gbessa, June and Norman meet in Monrovia, Liberia, where the curses that have made them pariahs become the gifts that help them defend freed slaves and Africans from invading French traders.

Ascending over the isolated stories is a comforting voice to both the characters and the reader. “Take care, my darling . . . my friend,” says the first-person narrator who ties these stories together in mysticism and eloquence. The pain that this narrator and the three main characters have in common becomes their shared language, focusing and sharpening their gifts. Moore’s insightful, emotional descriptions graft these stories right onto readers’ hearts.

A celebration of freedom and justice that compassionately tells the stories of exceptional people, Moore’s debut is about every fight against death and bondage.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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She Would Be King

She Would Be King

By Wayétu Moore
Graywolf
ISBN 9781555978174

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