She Would Be King (Moore)

She Would Be King 
Wayetu Moore, 2018
Graywolf Press
312 pp.

A novel of exhilarating range, magical realism, and history—a dazzling retelling of Liberia’s formation

Wayetu 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1984-85
Raised—Texas, USA
Education—B.A., Howard University; M.A., University of Southern California
Currently—lives in Brookly, New York City, New York

Wayetu Moore is the director of One Moore Book, a nonprofit group that encourages reading for children in countries with low-literacy rates. Her debut novel, She Would Be King, was published in 2018. A memoir is also forthcoming.

Moore was born in Liberia but left when she was only five to escape the country's civil war. She moved to New York City and lived in her mother's dorm room at Columbia University where her mother was finishing up her degree. Three years later, the family settled in Texas, which Moore now calls home.

The author earned her B.A. from Howard University and her M.A. from Southern California University. She is currently working toward a second Master's at Columbia Teacher's College where she is studying the impact of culturally relevant curricula and teaching aids on under-served elementary school children.

Moore has written for Guernica Magazine, Rumpus, Atlantic Monthly and other publications. She has been featured in The Economist, NPR, NBC, BET and ABC, among others, for her work in advocacy for diversity in children’s literature. (Adapted from various online sources. Retrieved 9/14/2018).

Read an author interview here.

Book Reviews
Moore's vivid characters, beguiling language and powerful subject matter engage us thoroughly. The book is unforgettable.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

This compelling debut novel by Wayetu Moore blends historical fiction with magical realism in an exhilarating tale of the formation of Liberia. Moore effortlessly weaves the threads of indigenous West African tribes, American and Caribbean slavery, and British colonialism together to tell the creation story of a new nation, complete with unforgettable characters and a dynamic voice.
Marie Claire

Hotly anticipated.… A breathtaking retelling of the founding of Liberia.… Wayetu Moore’s magical realism can make anyone believe in how connected humans are to the world around them.

Stunning.… It is an epic narrative, weaving together themes of diasporic conflict, the legacy of bondage, isolation, and community, and it offers a transcendent, important look at the ways in which the past is never fully behind us, and instead echoes throughout everything we do.

[An] impressive fantasy that revolves around three indelible characters.… Moore uses an accomplished, penetrating style—with clever swerves into fantasy—to build effective critiques of tribal misogyny, colonial abuse, and racism.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) Many books are devoted to connecting Africans of the diaspora, yet… Moore's debut does so with remarkable …spiritual, and mystical dimensions.… [P]oetic dialog… [allows] readers to imagine events, sights, feelings, and sensations.  —Ashanti White, Fayetteville, NC
Library Journal

Moore’s insightful, emotional descriptions graft these stories right onto readers’ hearts.

An ambitious, genre-hopping, continent-spanning novel.… Moore is a brisk and skilled storyteller who weaves her protagonists' disparate stories together with aplomb yet… [renders her] cast of characters in ways that feel psychologically compelling.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for SHE WOULD BE KING … then take off on your own:

1. Of the three main characters, do you have a favorite—one you admire more than the others or find more sympathetic? Talk about the way all three empower themselves. Overall, what does this book have to say about self-empowerment and the human spirit?

2. Wayetu Moore makes use of magical realism in her telling of Liberia's history. What does that fantastical approach—superpowers for her three main characters and the wind as narrator—bring to her story?

3. Do you consider the powers given to Gbessa, June Dey, and Norman Aragon as gifts …or curses …or both?

4. Talk about the way in which the novel deals with slave trade, especially the atrocities at the hands of the French. Were you aware of this part of history?

5. Discuss the racism toward native Liberians which arose during the country's formation. Was it inadvertent? Was it unavoidable—simply part and parcel to our basic human nature? Or was the racism a result of something else entirely?

6. One of the questions posed by She Would Be King is the degree to which past events are responsible for our actions in the present. Can the evil things that were done to us—cruelty and injustice we were once subjected to—explain, even excuse, our present deeds?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020