Elijah is 7, and he believes two things in life. His mother loves him with an immense, world-shattering love, and he is possessed by a “wizard.” This wizard occasionally takes control to hurt people he loves, and as he has moved from foster home to foster home, he’s left behind a trail of terrified foster parents who are broken-hearted that the bright, polite, soft-spoken and vulnerable boy has nonetheless managed to do so much damage.
However, Nikki and Obi believe they can handle him and they adopt him. Obi is Nigerian as is Elijah. Nikki is white, but she knows that won’t make a difference to the love and patience she has to offer. She and Obi are prepared for things to be difficult. They take classes, attend tons of meetings, make all the arrangements that they can, have a team of support lined up, both professional and familial. And at first things go well–very well, as Elijah begins to respond to the love and stability he’s receiving. Elijah views Nikki’s freckles as angels’ kisses, signs of divine favor, and loves the way she cuddles him at night. His mother once told him that if he was in trouble, he needed to find a Nigerian who believed in God, and Obi’s father certainly fits the bill. He makes a friend for the first time–his new cousin, Jasmin.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I want to discuss the book in its entirety. And it’s pretty obvious all along from the extreme foreshadowing that Elijah’s mother was abusive and that Elijah is extremely damaged as a result. I will say that this book left me sobbing. It deals beautifully with the clash between a traditional worldview and a modern outlook on life that allows only for scientific, empirical evidence. While everybody pays lip service to the idea of cultural understanding, it is understood that the Western outlook is the only right one and the only one that will ultimately be supported. But Elijah is convinced that the wizard exists and that he cannot control it. If the wizard isn’t real, that must mean his mother didn’t really love him–he’s too young to understand mental illness, immigrant vulnerability, and spiritual abuse. But letters from his mother, interspersed throughout the book, reveal just that. His mother came with her young husband to London from a loving and supportive Nigerian family, but after his sudden death she goes into a tailspin. Not knowing where to find help she goes to a local Nigerian bishop, a man who covers abuses of power and occult practices with a thin veneer of Christianity and who tells her that her newborn is possessed. The result is heartbreaking. And as Nikki and Obi learn more about their son’s past, it becomes more and more apparent that he represents a clash between cultures, and that helping him deal with his demons will take a special kind of understanding. He’s convinced that he’s bad at the core. Will their love be enough to bring him through?
Where Women Are Kings is beautifully written and it deals very well with some very hard issues. The characters are well-drawn, sympathetic and utterly believable, and the plot is gripping. And it will probably make you cry. But it’s so good, really good, and worth it. Highly recommended.