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She Would Be King

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

Wayétu 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.

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First published September 11, 2018

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About the author

Wayétu Moore

12 books283 followers
Wayétu Moore is the founder of One Moore Book and is a graduate of Howard University, Columbia University, and the University of Southern California. She teaches at the City University of New York’s John Jay College and lives in Brooklyn.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,060 reviews
Profile Image for Sarah Jessica Parker.
17 reviews409k followers
December 8, 2018
This beautiful novel dazzles and makes you want to lock yourself away and only read. Ms. Moore illuminates what it means to be of and from places that are both faraway and inescapably familiar. She took me away from the chaos of our world and it was hard to leave her's. A Book Club Central pick!
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,404 reviews2,364 followers
October 15, 2018
Imagine Homegoing ON CRACK!

I am not sure why there isn't a bigger hype surrounding Wayetu Moore's debut novel She Would Be King because it is absolutely enthralling. While I don't like comparing books, for some reason this book reminded me of how I felt reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I felt a pounding in my chest and fluttering in my stomach as I asked myself while reading this book- "what magic is this book?!" . I was reminded of how I felt when I was younger and I opened a book I know I would absolutely love... it felt like magic.

In She Would Be King we are exposed to magical realism, historical fiction, captivating characters and a storyline that grabs you from the very first line... I am talking about the dedication.

The book features three characters- Gbessa born with a curse on her head but she would be king, June Dey born in Virginia from supernatural causes and Norman Aragon child of a Colonizer and Maroon Woman. These three characters were not only birthed in difficult circumstances but during a period in history where everything is stacked against them. We get a historical look into Jamaica during the time of the Maroons and Colonizers, Virginia during the booming slave trade and an in-depth look into Liberia's history. I never thought I would learn so much from this book, but from a historical perspective there is a lot to unpack- thanks for the additional reading material Wayetu Moore.

If you are looking for a magical historical fiction, this is the book for you. If you want a book that is thoroughly researched, filled with strong female leads and tension for days- this is the book for you. If you enjoyed Homegoing, there is no doubt that you will love this as well. This book is currently on my top favorite books for 2018- it is that good! A must read.


"Review" written upon finishing the book- you know how Amazon prompts you....ugh. See more thorough review above
Absolutely enthralling!
I could not put this book down and I haven't been able to shut up about it. This debut is a must read and an absolute favorite of mine for 2018. The characters are captivating the plot is well researched I learned so much from a historical perspective. A must read! Full review to come.
Profile Image for David.
602 reviews128 followers
December 2, 2018
"Norman took off his shoes and placed his feet in the water, stiffening from its rigidity."

If this sentence appeals to you - grammatically and atmospherically - then you may enjoy this book.

"...mostly he just sat on a rock near some cultivated land farthest from the cluster of houses on three rows of hills, watching and writing ardently, as two or three sailors looked askance."

If you find this tolerable - structurally and descriptively - then you may enjoy this book.

"When the morning meals were done and everyone and everything in the mansion were cleaned up, Maisy devoted two hours to giving Marlene lessons. Gbessa stayed close by the women during this time." followed later in the same paragraph by "Since Marlene had grown too old for lessons, Maisy had used the idle hours...to read her Bible."

If this sequence doesn't cause you to ask questions like, "Isn't it 'everything and everyone WAS cleaned up'?" and "Did Marlene have two hours of lessons each morning or had she grown too old for them? Which is it?", then you may enjoy this book.

You may enjoy this book but I did not. The spirit was willing but the text was weak.

Moore reminds me of an exuberant child, so eager to share her story that she makes a hash of the telling. She scrambles language and leaves important things out, forcing her listener to interrupt now and then (often, actually) to say, "Wait...what? Back up a minute." She seems to have a clear vsion of the scene in her own mind but fails to take the reader along much of the time. She's got a box full of interesting literary tools at her disposal but doesn't seem to understand how some are meant to function and isn't always buidling something sound.

I was very frustrated by the reading experience. (Could you tell?). There is so much unrealized potential in the story itself. There are too many awkward shifts in perspective and wandering plot elements. There are character voices I did not find convincing. There are sudden, jarring dislocations of setting that just seem sloppy. And there is formulaic creative writing technique on display, but the formula often doesn't work. For example, it is very common to find sentences which contain one visual, one olfactory, and one auditory descriptive component: "From a distance, smoke rose...the wind carried the familiar scent of the room...and the sounds of...the nearby ocean." Once you notice the pattern, it loses much of the intended magic.

This is a debut novel, which certainly accounts for some of what I found irksome. And - on the basis of two interviews I watched - Moore is a delightful, thoughtful, highly accomplished woman. I tend not to take such things into consideration when rating books, however, and so this one is - in comparison to other novels from the year - 2.5 stars rounded down.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,102 reviews2,958 followers
December 29, 2021
4.5 stars // I loved it! It was so much better than I expected! She Would Be King is nothing short of thrilling, empowering, and magical! I usually don't vibe with historical fiction, and try to stay clear of slave narratives as best as I can (because they are so damn triggering), but somehow Wayétu Moore's tone and intent behind this story just struck a chord with me. I flew through the book, couldn't put it down, and rooted for our main characters. It was such a fun experience overall! It reminded me a little bit of Moi, Tituba sorcière..., so if you enjoyed that book give this one a go as well!
“We are free … We will die reciting, and in the name of our new and honest freedom, ion the name of our liberty, we shall call this land, our new and bold and free and honest country, Liberia!”
She Would Be King is set early in Liberia's history (the middle of the 19th century), when the country was the focus of the American Colonization Society to return previously enslaved people to Africa, and can be read as a form of genesis: a literary re-working of Liberia's founding and creation—with lots of magical realism thrown into the mix!

Wayétu Moore herself was born in 1985 in Liberia. She is of mixed Vai, Gola and Americo-Liberian ancestry. When she was five years old, Moore's family fled their home in Monrovia to escape civil war. At the time, Moore's mother was studying at Columbia University, and had no news of her family's fate. She flew to Sierra Leone, where she eventually found a female fighter who was able to locate the rest of the family and bring them across the border. Subsequently, the Moore family moved to Houston, Texas, where young Wayétu began to write, to "overcome the trauma [she] experienced during the war." She Would Be King (2018) is her debut novel.
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.
The book focuses on three main characters: Gbessa, a member of the Vai tribe, who has been cursed as a witch and banished to an otherworldly forest where "yellow and plum-coloured insects piloted through the heat amid the shouts of forest beasts and spectres". She limps home five dry seasons later, having discovered that she cannot die. Norman Aragorn sails from Jamaica after escaping his father, an odious British "scholar" who kept Norman and his enslaved mother captive, drooling over the chance to make his name by documenting their ability to vanish at will. June Dey, a runaway slave from a Virginia plantation, who fought his way out by flinging off attackers, dogs and bullets alike with supernatural strength, then boarded a ship he thought was bound for New York only to wash up on Africa's Grain Coast instead.

I loved that Moore picked these supernatural abilities with such great care, as they are tools for empowerment. As a Black reader, I often struggle through slave narratives, because I can't endure the violence and brutality. It was such a breath of fresh air, to (for the first time ... at least for me!) see a different take on the slave narrative. Through the means of magical realism, Moore's characters are able to fight back, and do some serious damage. And I loved it so much! When it comes to explorations of slavery in novels, there is little patience left for catalogues of atrocities, but an abiding interest in finding fresh ways of exhuming something useful from the gloom. Readers want alternative histories, unfamiliar forms, genre-leaping speculations—and Moore delivers on all fronts!

One of my favorite scenes unravels when June Dey, after the death of his mother at the hands of slavers, absolutely looses his shit, and starts unleashing his strength "When his hands were free, he punched one of the men so hard that the man’s nose sprayed blood, and several teeth flew from his twisted mouth.", and further: "June crashed his iron fit into their jaws and noses." Whilst June himself is invincible: when he's whipped, his back doesn't scar and when he's shot, his skin repels bullets. So as a reader you know he's safe. I didn't have to fear for his life. And to top it all of: "Each time he was struck his strength grew." I mean??? I AM HEAVEN. What a great twist is that! June was probably my favorite character in the novel, because his scenes were so thrilling and empowering to read about!
Their spirits were alive. And most men I knew before, in that place, laid their spirits to rest the first time the cat-o’-nine-tails flew into their backs. And without a spirit, you cannot feel. You react, but the longer you exist in a world without your spirit, the less you feel. And feeling, no matter how low the emotion, is a gift.

But in that place we stopped feeling when our spirits were killed. Laughter was a reaction. Tears were a reaction. Those screams were a reaction. But the source of them—the mother of joy, of sadness, or terror—was a ghost like me.
Whilst the harshness of plantation life is grimly evoked in the text, children are flogged, men beaten raw, women visited in the night by the men who own them etc., Moore doesn't linger on this brokenness. She is interested in making these characters whole again. So she sets about fashioning three mythic heroes and equipping them for a mission of restorative justice: Gbessa the immortal, Norman the invisible, and June Dey the invincible.

When these three finally meet in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, they get the ball rolling. Gbessa finds a job working for some of the founders of the first independent African republic (= which was founded by former African American slaves^^), and discovers that lofty ideals and righteous anger don't necessarily translate into kindness and equality. Gbessa is told to shed the language and traditions of her tribe, as the repatriated former American slaves want to reshape her in their own image. So Gbessa gets converted to Christianity and taught English. The agony of this cultural shapeshifting is one of colonisation's deep wounds and Moore reminds us that in Liberia the freed Americans became invaders themselves, their mansions and farms "poking into the villages of indigenous groups".

Meanwhile, Norman and June Dey encounter some of Liberia’s European carpetbaggers (particularly the French) who are trying to kindle tribe-on-tribe violence so the resulting confusion will allow them to take people away to their slave ships.
“The girl with the biggest gift of us all. Life. If she was not a girl or if she was not a woman; if she was not a woman or if she was not a witch, she would be king.”
Wayétu Moore uses magical realism to a great extent throughout the book and I absolutely loved it. Albeit the pacing was off at times (especially the ending felt very rushed), I find it remarkable how many details Moore wove into her plot. The scenery, not just in its locality but also in its historical dimensions, feels extremely rich and authentic. Wayétu Moore manages to make Liberia, and its inhabitants, come to life on the page. It's truly enchanting!

In an interview, Moore said: "The story was really a way that I negotiated both love and Liberia, and those are two things that when I started writing the story, I had felt rejected by. When I started writing my novel, I hadn’t been back to Liberia since I was five. I was channeling the memories that I had, I was channeling stories from my parents and grandparents of what it was like there. I was doing a lot of research, and so it was a way for me to reconnect. And then for love, obviously this grand of a scope, it was something I don’t think I quite understood yet. I had a very specific way of looking at love and love stories, because my parents and grandparents have very epic love stories that crossed continents and religions. Those two things that I didn’t quite understand, I navigated through story."

And in my humble opinion, she manages to negotiate both, Liberia and love, superbly in She Would Be King. You guys know that romance is usually not what I'm looking for when reading a book, but I was pleasantly surprised that I fell in love with how these characters fell in love with each other. When I tell you how I rooted for Safua and Gbessa in the beginning ... man, I needed them to reunite! Safua's childhood promise ("I will always protect you.") might sound corny, but let me tell you, I felt that in my heart! And also Norman's and June's interest in Gbessa was wonderful to read about. Overall, this book had me all in my feelings!
He had come in the name of Darlene and so many others blended into the wind. He was there. They were all there. All come to fight. All ready.
As for negotiating Liberia, She Would Be King is an ambitious and expansive novel that explores the nuances of Liberian history beyond its identity as a settlement for emancipated African-Americans, and that's amazing! Moore skillfully reconsiders the idealism of the early African American settlers through their interactions with the indigenous peoples and weaves together intimate story lines of defying familial expectations and weighing what's the right thing to do.

"She is establishing a different voice," Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, one of Liberia's most famous poets, said. "She is not writing about the war, she is not writing about poverty or writing about villages in a patronizing way." And I think it's that respect and that care that makes Moore's debut novel so special. She Would Be King is a tour de force that crescendoes to its conclusion, reimagining the birth of Liberia in a way that is tender, humane and suffused with lyricism.
Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews560 followers
November 29, 2018

This a tough review to write because my feelings on this book are so mixed. On one hand I learned a terrific amount about the foundation story of Liberia. A story that has been rarely explored in fiction. I thought it was interesting that a recent NYT article aligned

Moore’s potential legacy to that of the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose novels about Nigeria reignited popular interest in the country’s stories. “She is cracking that space in America for Liberian writers”

This book does paint a picture of Liberia that is far more nuanced and interesting than perhaps what I had in my head from the news or other books about Africa. The three background stories that form almost half the book are exceptional and represent the populations from whence the nascent Libera would be drawn. Gbessa the "witch" belonging to the indigenous Vai tribe, Norman Aragon- a Jamaican Maroon - and June Dey a slave from America. Moore invests much time setting the scene for these three characters to end up together in Monrovia.

The style of storytelling is very much rooted in an African tradition where supernatural elements exist. And this may be a deal-breaker for many readers. For example, the three main characters have some obliging super powers - invisibility, super-human strength and immortality, very useful for dealing to those pesky French. An added annoyance for me was the narrator, a disembodied voice that pops up like Clippy the office assistant, whispering endearments of little import into characters ears.

Maybe the most significant problem was not in the end the magical realism but the disappointment that after all the effort Moore put into the background of her characters, it is really only Gbessa's story that had enough oomph in it to sustain the second half. Norman and June are left to Super Hero their way out of the occasional skirmish. I wish more could have been done with the ultimately disappointing second half, especially given such a strong start.

In summary : - an interesting but flawed debut. However, bring on more stories from Liberia, there is surely a gold-mine of storytelling potential here.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,512 reviews2,454 followers
November 29, 2018
When a beautiful special edition of Moore's debut was delivered to me as part of Powell's Indiespensable collection, I was stoked: Finally a novel about the foundation of Liberia, a fascinating country I had learnt about when I was part of an (American) Model UN team representing Liberia at National Model United Nations. And Moore does talk about the complicated history of this state, envisioned as a "free colony" at the African coast, a place were free slaves could settle. The three protagonists stand for the peoples of Liberia and are endowed with magical powers: We meet June Dey, a former slave from Virginia with superhuman strength; Norman, the child of a white colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica who can become invisible (thus turning the fact that the humanity of slaves has been ignored by their captors into a weapon); and then there's Gbessa, a member of the African Vai tribe - she owns the biggest gift of all: Life, as she is undying. (Yes, all of this is blatant symbolism.)

Moore tells the backstories of her three characters in pretty excessive length before they finally meet in Monrovia - I have to admit that this tested my patience quite a bit. Another factor that bothered me was the use of the superpowers: I really enjoy magical realism as long as the fantastical elements teach me something that lies beyond actual reality or reveal something about the worldview and culture of the characters. In this case though, the powers often felt like plot devices employed to hold the story together. The choice of narrator didn't do much for me either .

What I really appreciated though was Moore's talent for describing scenes and moods - everything she writes feels elegant and alive, even if the pacing is sometimes slightly uneven. I also liked that she discussed the various conflicts that erupted in Liberia, and finds voices for the different sides (except the slavers, but this story is not about them - their voices have been too loud for too long). When they met the indigenous population, the settlers themselves came from different places and had different backgrounds - are the aspirations to make Liberia (liber = free) a haven for all of them sufficient to render the country a success?

A promising debut, but the story does not quite come together.
Profile Image for Naori.
161 reviews
October 16, 2019
If the spirits lifted me from my body tonight and this was the last book I ever read I would dance with laughter and joy. I will never forget this feeling because it is so incredibly rare. I remember the wonder when I finished the last page of the first Octavia Butler book I ever read and it felt a lot like this. I haven't read a book of this magnitude in the last two years and that is not a bit of an exaggeration. I don't want to try to translate what is in my heart and mind right now, and I won't try to convince the world to read this book, but the nice thing about being a professor is that you can assign texts like this, and perhaps make people feel what I have felt. So I am beyond excited to share these words with all of my students and to have the landscape of this novel expand even further with each mind it encounters.
Profile Image for Darkowaa.
166 reviews369 followers
September 11, 2018
!!! full review - https://africanbookaddict.com/2018/09...

3.5 stars rounded up. I’d love to know what Liberians and Liberian-Americans think of this novel, as they would probably better understand the nuances of the story. I can confidently say I will read anything by Wayétu Moore, and that this debut is a lovely ode to the country of Liberia and Liberian womanhood, through Gbessa’s complex characterization.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
November 30, 2018
Magical realism meets Marvel action movie to create a mythic fable of nationhood.

Wayétu Moore’s debut, She Would Be King, infuses the historical founding of Liberia with tales of spirits, wanderers and strange happenings. In true superhero style, each of the key figures has a tragic backstory, and the first half of She Would Be King relates their origin stories in turn. Mothers are central to Moore, so the three tales all begin with a mother and an auspicious birth. Each of the three infants grows into a child with a distinctly superhuman talent, each is forced to flee their home, they are destined to cross paths in a land yet to be dubbed Liberia.

It’s a lengthy set up in order to unite the three central characters, who are clearly representative of the disparate peoples who formed the beginnings of Liberia (the indigenous groups, African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans respectively). But I enjoyed this extended prelude immensely. The stories have an epic flavour and the lush style of the telling was suitably grand for a founding myth. Rome has Romulus and Remus, maybe Liberia could have Gbessa, June and Norman?

Unfortunately I found the second half of the book less successful. Mainly because the story was unevenly weighted towards Gbessa the witch, with June and Norman relegated to background players whose stories didn’t deliver a satisfying payoff. I kept hoping Moore could pull it off and bring all the threads together by the end. It was this hope more than anything else, I think, that propelled me through the last part of the book, but it just didn’t quite land for me.

I saw an interview with Moore in which she said she is working on a memoir that will also ‘engage with magical realism’ (at age 5 she fled Liberia with her family to escape the civil war there) and also a novel about Mamy Wateh, both of which sound fascinating so I very much look forward to those.

3.5 stars rounded up
Profile Image for Suzanne Cohen Hard.
23 reviews14 followers
April 5, 2019
Fantastic read (although with a daughter in the Peace Corps in Liberia, I was especially interested). Hard to believe this is a first novel. Great story that ties together history of the slave trade in Africa, the Caribbean, and the US, along with the founding of Liberia. Loved the three main characters, with their action hero like attributes.
Profile Image for Nadine in California.
931 reviews89 followers
November 17, 2020
The colonial history of Liberia is fascinating, and this book brings it to life with a story and characters that are every bit as absorbing. For me, the first half of the book was superb - Gbessa's, June Dey's, and Norman Aragon's worlds were so rich and detailed, I felt like I was there. The supernatural was so naturally woven into their lives, I couldn't really think of it as magic - it was just an organic extension of themselves. The second half wasn't quite as good for me, even though the plot kicked into high gear. My problem was that The writing was solid, and didn't draw attention to itself, which is important in a book with so much action. A couple of odd adjective choices here and there made me wonder how they slipped by an editor though.
Profile Image for Hanna.
155 reviews29 followers
August 16, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Tasha.
357 reviews36 followers
November 11, 2018
I feel so bad for not liking this book. It has so many positive reviews and I just could not get into it at all. It was more of a 2.5 star read than 3 😕
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
May 15, 2021
I finished this book a couple of days ago, but have been a little reluctant to review it, partly because I don't want to influence the forthcoming discussion in the 21st Century Literature group, and partly because although it has admirable qualities, I didn't like it that much. This was largely because its magic realism overshadows its historical content to the extent that any sense of Liberia's real history is almost lost, and that history would have been more interesting to me than more tall tales inspired by the West African spirit world.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,046 reviews3,444 followers
August 23, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Moraa.
403 reviews8 followers
November 15, 2022
I am changed. I am a different woman. I forgot myself. And I am sorry.

15 November 2022
Always such a thought-provoking read.
(still hoping for a sequel)
23 November 2020
Maybe one day I'll be able to read this book without a flood of anger, joy, pain, compassion and laughter filling my soul. But I doubt it.
2 November 2019
One of my best this year!
My soul desperately needs a sequel.
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 57 books565 followers
January 25, 2019
Now this is storytelling! Moore utilises a fascinating literary arsenal: magical realism, African mythology and folklore, historical research and slavery revenge fantasies and unleashes them to full effect. Think Homegoing meets Pachinko with strong Black Panther overtones. Damn this was good! I hope it does for Liberian fiction what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work has done for Nigerian fiction.
Profile Image for Katie Long.
269 reviews57 followers
December 3, 2018
Sigh. I really thought I would love this one. There are some brilliant elements and the story is a fascinating one, however it just never quite comes together convincingly. The pacing is very strange as well. At times, it feels so rushed that the characters aren’t developed and at others, it feels weighted and plodding. 2.5 rounded up.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,115 followers
August 12, 2019
An extraordinary alt-history of the founding of Liberia, bringing together an outcast village girl accused of witchcraft, a US slave and son of a ghost, and a mixed-race Jamaican Maroon, all with superpowers. It's many things--folktale, African X-Men, historical fantasy, vengeance dream. Mostly, it's about hope for life and freedom and the way that hope is stifled by colonialism/slavery and racism and cruelty. (And even with the fantasy woven by the story, it's hard to forget Liberia's actual subsequent history.)

The title sums up a lot, with the reference to Kipling's tale of colonisers maddened by power in The Man Who Would be King. That 'would' is an expression of will but here the 'would' is conditional--Gbessa would be king if the world was a fair place. It's not, and there's a lot of brutality and injustice here.

An extremely powerful read. I felt like the stories of Norman, June Dey and Gbessa needed to be woven in more and to reach more of an ending--they start but don't really peak or end--but then again I may be imposing my own idea of the shape a novel should be on this. I really enjoyed it, in any case.
Profile Image for Lekeisha The Booknerd.
929 reviews106 followers
September 23, 2018
I have no doubts that She Would Be King will be loved by many. And, on that note, if you are a fan of Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing - or any literary masterpiece of the like - then this book should be on your TBR.

Liberia's history told in magical locution. It doesn't get any better than that. I loved Gbessa's voice and strength, as well as June Day's. My only problem was the way the story ended. Not that it was bad, but it seemed to abruptly stop. Or maybe that's me being greedy. Still, this book is magical and I am so glad it crossed my radar. *fist pumps to Publisher's Weekly for listing it as the book to read this fall*
Profile Image for Timár_Krisztina.
204 reviews37 followers
December 6, 2019

Mint már említettem, amikor az ember világolvasást tart, nem mindig válogathat. Különösen az olyan irodalmak esetében, amelyeket alig vagy egyáltalán nem fordítanak általam ismert nyelvekre. Akkor nem mondhatom, hogy de én a mágikus realista történelmi regényeket szeretem a legjobban, főleg, ha teljesen ismeretlen kultúrával akarok megismerkedni.

Ilyenkor karácsonyi ajándéknak tekinti az ember nyár közepén is azt, ha kiderül, hogy a fölfedezendő országnak a kultúráját pont egy mágikus realista történelmi regény képviseli angol nyelven. Amelynek szerzője ráadásul gyanúm szerint a Nobel-díjas Toni Morrison nyomdokaiba szeretne lépni. Fog is az menni. Még nem megy egészen (ezért a négy csillag), de fog.

Adva van három főszereplő: egy kísérleti céllal "előállított" félvér (igen, emberkísérletről beszélek) Jamaicáról, egy fekete rabszolga Virginiából és egy népe által kitaszított, fekete bőrű, de vörös hajú boszorkány Nyugat-Afrika vadonjaiból. Három különböző életút, de mindhármat árulás, erőszak, halál szegélyezi. Három különböző szupererővel, . Plusz ott a negyedik: az őket egymáshoz húzó, személytelennek tűnő, de nagyon is erős szellemhang.

Mert ez ám olyan mágikus realista regény, hogy közben szuperhőstörténet is. Ennek a három embernek kell találkoznia és csapatot alkotnia annak érdekében, hogy a frissen megalakult Libéria, a rabszolgaságból szabadult amerikai feketék köztársasága identitást találjon magának, és legalább elkezdhesse megvédeni magát. A külső ellenségtől (a továbbra is fennmaradó rabszolga-kereskedelemtől) is, önmagától is. Hiszen nem vákuumban alakult meg ez az állam. Nyugat-Afrikának ez a része nem volt lakatlan. A területet benépesítő törzsek ugyanúgy tekintettek az óceánon túlról érkezőkre, mint a fehérekre. A felszabadított rabszolgák keresztény utódai pedig rájuk úgy, mint veszélyes vademberekre. Szép kis reprodukálása a hátrahagyott életformának, annak minden konfliktusforrásával egyetemben.

Kiváló alapötlet, ügyes megvalósítás, nagyon szép stílus. Valahogy mégis könnyűnek találtatik. Nem nagyon könnyűnek, de azért könnyűnek. Szubjektív ok: . Objektív ok: hiába a sok vér, hiába a sok keserűség, nekem mégiscsak túlságosan emelkedettnek, és emiatt súlytalannak tűnt a történet második fele. Fene a gusztusomat. Elrontották ilyenek, mint Naipaul meg Adichie meg persze Morrison. Az ő műveiket olvasva azt látom, hogy a szabadságért sokkal-sokkal többet kell fizetni, és még úgy sem biztos, hogy azt kapja az ember, amit szeretne. Főleg egy olyan szerzőtől várom ennek az elismerését, mint Moore, akit ötéves korában mentettek ki egy polgárháború sújtotta országból, és irtó nagy mákja volt, hogy a szüleivel együtt. Persze ettől még nagyon tisztelni való az, ha valaki éppen ilyen körülmények között bízni mer az eszme erejében. Lehet, hogy éppen ezzel használ a hazájának.

Ezért mondom, hogy Morrison nyomában jár ez a nő, csak MÉG nem ért oda. Majd ha odaér, még többet adhat annak az országnak, amelynek a jövőjéért ennyi felelősséget érez.

Nagyon szépen köszönöm, hogy megkaptam kölcsön, és elolvashattam!
Profile Image for Lata.
3,598 reviews191 followers
July 30, 2019
Violent, fantastical, thrilling. These were words running through my head as I read this historical novel. Which also has some strong magic realism aspects to it, with the wind as a narrator, a young, former slave impervious to injury, a young biracial man who can disappear at will, and a young woman, Gbessa, seen as a witch by her people, but who believes herself unable to die.
Wayétu Moore follows each of the characters separately, before bringing them together in Africa, near the site of the new country Liberia. Gbessa is a wonderful character, and is central to the story.
I don't normally respond well to magic realism-like writing, and it did slow down my progress through the book, and detracted somewhat from my enjoyment. I did, however, still like this book, probably because of Gbessa.
Profile Image for Jan.
1,072 reviews29 followers
November 7, 2018
Beautifully written blend of West African and Western story telling in this novel of Liberia’s founding. Definitely an author to keep an eye on.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
986 reviews130 followers
December 10, 2018
I found the story very uneven and some characters added solely for interest and not for the story. The first part was stronger with some good character-development, but the second part failed to use those characters to their potential. While centered around an interesting part of history, the book overall was bland. 2.5⭐️
Profile Image for Emily.
296 reviews1,534 followers
April 11, 2019
I really wanted to love this, but it ended up being a bit "meh" for me.

The structure of the book is ostensibly three parts, each part a different character who eventually finds themselves in Liberia. We have Gbessa, a Vai woman declared cursed because of the circumstances of her birth. Then there's Norman Aragon, who is the son of a woman who's a slave in Jamaica and a white British "scientist" who is "studying" the Maroon colonies of Jamaica. And lastly, there's June Dey, borne of a ghost on a plantation in Virginia.

This is a work of magical realism, and like any true work of magical realism, it uses the supernatural to highlight the very-real brutality of the world in which we live.

I loved the way more used those supernatural elements to reflect the resilience of the African diaspora and early Liberia in the face of so much horror.

Gbessa's perspective was my favorite by miles. I loved that out of all the characters, her power was both the least flashy and the most important. That Moore chose the ability to survive, the ability to just not die, as the quietest and most important magic is an incredibly powerful metaphor.

But I also fundamentally struggled to connect with the male characters. Their chapters differ from Gbessa's in that the men aren't truly the center of their own stories until at least halfway through the book. Rather, June Dey's and Norman's chapters begin as their mothers' stories. That switch, from mother to son, was an interesting examination of inter-generational trauma, but from a narrative structure perspective it didn't work for me. The two boys (eventually men) feel like secondary characters in their own stories.
Profile Image for Megan C..
723 reviews199 followers
November 22, 2018
Absolutely loved this book - check out my IG account @whatmeganreads for my full review. I think this would make an AMAZING book club book - there is so much to discuss and I think you'll be surprised at how much you have learned by the end.
Profile Image for Miriam.
52 reviews4 followers
October 31, 2018
Incredible. Beautifully written, compelling and magical tale.
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