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Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson
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Where Women Are Kings

by Christie Watson

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Christie Watson’s intensely moving novel Where Women Are Kings is so beautifully executed that one comes away with a sense of awe at her mastery of imagination and writing skill. Watson gets inside the experience of being a Nigerian immigrant to London and illuminates a disconnect within the mind of a seven-year-old foster child.

Watson takes on an important, fraught, and difficult to understand human social issue—severe child abuse—and shares it with us with an intelligence and assuredness that gives us all grace. She is as careful with us, her readers, as a mother is with an at-risk child, talking us around the issue until we feel safe enough to look at it straight in the eye. We would not gravitate to this difficult subject were we led there by a careful and steady guide.

Watson chooses a complex narrative structure with which to tell the story and in so doing, leads us to gradually comprehend how such hideous crimes might be committed by loving parents. There is a hard-won compassion everywhere apparent for all parties in this story, but not a hint of sentimentality. It is remarkable.

A seven-year-old boy of Nigerian descent has been kicking around the foster care system for some years before he is chosen by a biracial couple for adoption. He is considered at-risk because there is some question if he was involved in a fire set at his last foster home. The story is told partly from his point of view, and partly from that of his adoptive mother. Interspersed throughout the narrative are letters written to the boy, Elijah, from his birth mother. We sense the voice of the child Elijah and that of his birth mother are imaginative reconstructions, yet they have a compelling logic. The voice of the adoptive mother is so fiercely intelligent and defended that it feels positively lived.

Watson writes fiction that doesn’t feel like fiction, and yet all the elements of great fiction are manifest. The characters are unique, complex, recognizable. The story never gets out of Watson’s grasp. Her skill in the presentation keeps us rapt to know if and how the life of a seven-year-old can be saved. We believe in the folks she introduces who spend their days (and nights) wrestling with these issues. She makes them heroes.

There are no extra pieces in this novel. Every word works to the goal of our understanding and the development of our compassion. The story of the biracial household with a really tough, almost insoluble, problem is told with a naturalness that allows us to focus on big issues like whether or not love is enough.

At a time when the importance and relevance of fiction is being questioned, along comes a writer of such skill that we cannot but put aside that challenge for another day. Kudos to Watson. ( )
  bowedbookshelf | May 22, 2015 |
Little Elijah has a wizard living in him, and he tries so very hard to keep it inside, to not let it out where it will do evil.

I wanted to read this book because I loved the author's first novel, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away. And I liked this book, but I don't think it quite lived up to the very high standards set by the first one.

Elijah, a Nigerian child born in England, has been abused, his mother is mentally ill, and he is living with what everyone hopes is the last in a series of foster homes. You can't help but love this little kid, to cheer him on, to hope he controls his “wizard,” but the early part of the book does not give much hope.

This is a heartbreaking story of a little boy who tries so, so hard, of his foster parents who desperately want to make this damaged boy whole again, and even of his biological mother who loved him despite all she did.

While I thought the writing was beautiful, it did not seem quite as lyrical as the first book. The story did not seem to have quite the same depth. Nevertheless, this is a lovely book although hard to read because of the child abuse. The characters had depth, and even social workers were not painted with too broad a stereotypical brush. There is a very wise granddad, a fearless cousin, an aunt who marches to her own tune. I came to know and love the characters. If you can stand to read about child abuse, I do recommend this relatively short novel.

I was given an advance readers copy of this book for review. ( )
1 vote TooBusyReading | Apr 8, 2015 |
Where Woman Are Kings by Christie Watson is a beautifully written, atmospheric, and emotionally charged novel which at times can be difficult to read due to the subject matter, however considering Watson is writing about the physical and emotional abuse of a child, the topics covered are handled exceptionally well and helps to make Where Woman Are Kings all the more powerful a book. The book centers around seven year old Elijah, a child taken from his birth mother, a Nigerian Immigrant in England, and passed around from one foster home to another until Elijah, a boy with a history of disruptive behavior as well as a body covered in scars, is placed in the home of Nikki and Obi. Nikki and Obi feel they can provide the love and stability Elijah needs and they do rather well until Elijah’s past threatens the new family’s foundation. Watson’s writing is strong, powerful, and yet delicate as she writes of mental illness, foster care, inter-racial adoption, physical abuse of a child, as well as emotional abuse, her story is not an overly lighthearted or even cheerful one, and yet the story stays with the reader, the characters become real to the reader and through her mastery of prose Watson brings the reader into her very powerful story. As with her previous novel, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away I was unable to put the book down as I was moved by the characters and wanted to know what would happen next. While the book can at times be emotionally difficult to read, I would recommend it to adult readers with that caution as well as to book discussion groups, Where Woman Are Kings is not to be missed. ( )
1 vote knittingmomof3 | Apr 6, 2015 |
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Elijah is seven years old, with a history of disruptive behaviour. His adoptive mother Nikki believes that she and her husband Obi are strong enough to accept his difficulties - and that her being white will not affect her ability to raise a black son. Deborah, Elijah's birth mother, is ever present, and her on-going love for her son is a constant reminder for Nikki of something she's not part of, and that she's never had. Although each of them face more challenges than they could have dreamed of, Elijah eventually starts to settle in. But then Nikki becomes pregnant, and everything changes.… (more)

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