SHE WOULD BE KING
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 at will, just as his mother could.
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 at will, just as his mother could. 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.
- Graywolf Press
- September 2019
- 312 Pages
“Reading Wayétu Moore’s debut novel, She Would Be King, feels a lot like watching a superb athlete’s performance. . . . [Moore] has tapped into her own backstory—and emerged with literary superpowers.”—TIME
“[A] bold début. … The force and the symbolism of myth pervade Moore’s engrossing tale.” —The New Yorker
“Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will be intrigued by this debut novel, a reimagining of Liberia’s infancy in the 19th century.”—Harper’s Bazaar
“A remarkable debut novel, it meshes magical realism with history to reimagine Liberia’s formation through three characters, from Virginia, Africa and Jamaica.”—AARP The Magazine
“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
1. Gbessa, June Dey, and Norman Aragon come together from very different locations—Liberia, Virginia, and Jamaica. How do their experiences differ? How are they similar?
2. She Would Be King is a work of fiction that incorporates historical events. What did you know about Liberia before reading the book? What new questions do you have?
3. In what ways does She Would Be King trace the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade?
4. The narrating presence of the wind both cautions and comforts the characters in the novel. On pages 60-61 we’re given a clue about where the voice in the wind comes from. How does this presence change the way the entire novel is read?
5. Where do the special powers of the three main protagonists originate? How do their abilities align with their experiences, personalities, and cultures?
6. How does the magical realism employed in She Would Be King relate to recent pop culture representations of African superheroes, such as Black Panther?
7. What does She Would Be King have to say about the power of storytelling?
8. How are Gbessa’s life and experiences shaped by the treatment she receives simply for being a woman? How does that relate to how women are treated today?
9. Gbessa’s relationship to her Vai heritage changes when she joins the settlement in Monrovia. What are the tensions between the cultures, and how does she balance them in her life?
10.How is the relationship between Gbessa and Safua complicated by social status? Name three other relationship dynamics that make She Would Be King a love story.
11.What role does motherhood play in the novel? How do the various characters experience kinship and lineage?
12.In her author note at the beginning of the book, Wayétu Moore talks about a story that inspired the writing of her novel. In what ways does this seed of inspiration take root in the narrative? Is there anything in She Would Be King that similarly inspires you to tell your own story?