Published by Graywolf Press
Publication date: September 11, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Cultural, Debut, Fiction, Historical, Magical Realism
An unlikely trio comes together in the fight for a new nation in She Would Be King, Wayétu Moore’s debut novel about Liberia. There is 18-year-old Gbessa, exiled from her small West African village as a witch, who survives the bite of a poisonous snake. June Dey is a 15-year-old Virginian slave, who kills two men while trying to save the woman who raised him. When others try and subdue him, neither their whips or bullets leave any mark. In Jamaica, Norman Aragon is a young man who can vanish into thin air. It is the mid-1800s and from their faraway points on the planet, June and Norman make their way towards Gbessa and a place in history.
She Would Be King opens with Gbessa’s young life, but quickly moves on to June and Norman—initially giving the novel the feel of short stories. This, plus the rapid change in geography and the introduction of numerous ancillary characters takes a bit of warming up to, but as Moore pulls her characters into each other’s orbits the novel comes to life. This feeling is due not just to the plot’s progression, but to Moore’s soaring prose:
They were together now. It had begun. I dwelled in that hiding place with the three of them that night. However present the stronghold of loneliness had been on each of their lives, there lingered a hope that perhaps one day they would find others. In that moment, hope’s shell melted, and it extended its limbs and breathed, became real. Became true. Alike spirits separated at great distances will always be bound to meet, even if only once; kindred souls will always collide; and strings of coincidences are never what they appear to be on the surface, but instead are the mask of God.
Infusing the trio’s destiny with such lyrical writing keeps She Would Be King firmly in the storytelling realm rather than that of dried-out history lesson. She enhances the storytelling with the magical realism of the three main characters, giving the novel the feel of an allegory. Characters who appear average, but would never die, could inflict deadly violence on their oppressors without harm, or disappear without a trace? Wouldn’t any of those superpowers be what a slave might dream of in their darkest moments? And wouldn’t believing that be a source of hope?
With She Would Be King Moore opens the door to a way out of what were dark times in the history of man’s inhumanity towards man and using Gbessa, June, and Norman lights a path to a new country. She moves beyond historical fiction, into a dimension that provokes thoughts about times, events, and places we would likely never think about. And gives readers a novel that vibrates with color and energy.