WAYÉTU MOORE reads from her debut novel SHE WOULD BE KING
She Would Be King (Graywolf Press)
In She Would Be King, Wayétu Moore reimagines the dramatic story of the formation of Liberia through the eyes of three unforgettable characters. Gbessa, exiled on suspicion of being a witch from the West African village of Lai, is bitten by a viper and left for dead, but miraculously 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 is the child of a white British colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica, and can fade from sight at will, just as his mother could. When they meet in the settlement of Monrovia, their gifts help them salvage the tense relationship between the African American settlers and the indigenous tribes. Their storylines are brilliantly intertwined by the all-seeing spirit of the wind, who embodies an ancient wisdom.
A spectacular blend of history and magical realism, She Would Be King is a novel of profound depth set against a rich, unexpected canvas. Moore illuminates with radiant prose the tumultuous roots of a unique African country—one whose history is inextricably bound to the United States.
Praise for She Would Be King
“Hotly anticipated. . . . A breathtaking retelling of the founding of Liberia. . . . Wayétu Moore’s magical realism can make anyone believe in how connected humans are to the world around them.”—Glamour
“This compelling debut novel by Wayétu 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
“Poetic and pulsing with action.”—Redbook
“Stunning. . . . A magical-realism tour de force. . . . There is an aching sweetness to Moore’s writing that effectively captures the dichotomous and vulnerable strength of her protagonists and catapults this into the realm of books that cast a long-lingering spell.”—Booklist, starred review
“The dialog is fluid and poetic, allowing readers to imagine the events, sights, smells, feelings, and sensations. As with Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, this work will appeal to lovers of African, African American, and literary fiction.”—Library Journal, starred review
“Moore uses an accomplished, penetrating style—with clever swerves into fantasy—to build effective critiques of tribal misogyny, colonial abuse, and racism.”—Publishers Weekly
“An ambitious, genre-hopping, continent-spanning novel. . . . Moore is a brisk and skilled storyteller who weaves her protagonists' disparate stories together with aplomb yet is also able to render her sprawling cast of characters in ways that feel psychologically compelling. In addition, the novel's various settings—Virginia, Jamaica, and West Africa—are depicted so lushly that readers will find themselves enchanted.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Wayétu Moore's project in She Would Be King is no less than the creation of a nation, which is inextricable from the creation of the self. Epic, beautiful, and magical, this astonishing first novel boldly announces the arrival of a remarkable novelist and storyteller.”—Edwidge Danticat
“Lyrical, gripping, and throbbing with life in every word and sentence, Wayétu Moore conjures a story that reaches across the bounds of nation and culture to show us how deeply interwoven are our tales and our fates. In this luminous debut, you’ll find an original new voice, melding the magical and the mythic and forging something urgently of our moment.”—Alexandra Kleeman
“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.”—Susan
“Wayétu Moore has written a powerful novel which sheds light on the struggles of a people to cast off the yoke of slavery and oppression, and shape their future. Her language is beautiful and her efforts a labor of love. In Gbessa, she found a heroine whose story of perseverance in the face of persecutions is relevant to our time. Gbessa is the epitome of the resilience of women.”—Vamba Sherif
“Wayétu Moore is an inspiration. Her love for Liberia and America is undeniable--this book is a gift to all who share her love for country.”—Imbolo Mbue
“She Would Be King reads like an enchanted, luscious fairy tale. The story is bound up in horrid racism, but it’s told as if from heaven, hypnotic in its magic and surrealism. The greatest praise for this master debut may be fast or slow in coming, but that praise is ineluctable, certain. What joy a book is when it’s so profoundly good.”—Dagoberto Gilb
“She Would Be King is both epic and intensely intimate, a gripping story that moves through years and crosses borders to remind us what it means to be African, and American, and truly free. A powerful, compelling tale, told with poetry and fierce imagination.”—Maaza Mengiste
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.
Photo by Yoni Levy