Where Women Are Kings

Publication Date: Apr 28, 2015

256 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $16.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 9781590517093


List Price US $16.95
ISBN: 9781590517109

From the award-winning author of Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, the story of a young boy who believes two things: that his Nigerian birth mother loves him like the world has never known love, and that he is a wizard

Elijah, seven years old, is covered in scars and has a history of disruptive behavior. Taken away from his birth mother, a Nigerian immigrant in England, Elijah is moved from one foster parent to the next before finding a home with Nikki and her husband, Obi.

Nikki believes that she and Obi are strong enough to accept Elijah’s difficulties—and that being white will not affect her ability to raise a black son. They care deeply for Elijah and, in spite of his demons, he begins to settle into this loving family. But as Nikki and Obi learn more about their child’s tragic past, they face challenges that threaten to rock the fragile peace they’ve established, challenges that could prove disastrous.

Excerpt from Where Women Are Kings

Elijah, my lovely son, my beloved,
I want to tell you your life. Everyone has a story inside them, which begins before they are born, and yours is a bigger story than most will ever know. They say I shouldn’t tell you some things, and that words can hurt little ears, but, son of mine, there are no secrets between a mother and son. A child has seen the insides of its mother’s body, and who can know a secret bigger than that? And they say a lot of things, those English. What they call ‘child abuse’, us Nigerians call ‘training’. So don’t mind them.
Your story begins in Nigeria, which is a place like Heaven. There is continuous sunshine and everyone smiles and takes care of each other. Nigerian children work hard at school, have perfect manners, look after their parents and respect the elderly. Nigeria is brightness and stars, and earth like the skin on your cheeks: brown-red, soft and warm.
I am full up with proud memories from Nigeria. Most of all I remember my family. Mummy – your grandmother – was famous for shining cooking pots and shining stories. ‘Long ago,’ she would tell me and my sisters, ‘a woman, so full of empty, sold her body as if it was nothing but meat for sale at the market. She travelled all over Nigeria, that woman, looking for something to fill up her insides, and learnt many languages, searching for words to explain the emptiness. 

“Watson paints a portrait of a world torn by issues of class, race, and belief…[T]he book becomes progressively more convincing, darker and unexpectedly comic as a lively cast of characters inject humor and a believable awkwardness into an often painful drama…[A] moving and complex picture.  Watson is especially good at describing Elijah’s pleasure in the odd beauties of nature, as well as the wants and needs of domestic life.  Elijah is never more heartbreaking than when he’s imagining all the people he loves brought together in one place.” New York Times Book Review

“[Christie] Watson gracefully creates the delicate workings of a small household with an adopted Nigerian son at the center…Watson’s writing, with its gorgeous detail, is well suited to portraying the complexities involved in creating familial bonds, particularly the painstaking adoption process, and the daily life of a newly formed household. She has constructed a wonderful set of characters and a remarkable story of family love amid cultural and emotional tension.” —Booklist

“A multilayered, sophisticated book that gets to the heart of what family is and what we will do to love them.” —Kirkus Reviews

“[Christie] Watson…approaches the topic with expert knowledge of what a child like Elijah would have gone through, as well as tremendous empathy for her cast of characters. Where Women Are Kings is undeniably powerful.” —Publishers Weekly

“[A]n intense cross-cultural story of love…Watson’s portrayal of these characters is forceful and potent…the love that pervades the story is liberating.” —Shelf Awareness

“At times hauntingly heartbreaking, Christie Watson’s second novel explores race, family and the complexities of the Western foster system…Watson shows us the politics of adoption, the complexities of calling a stranger your son, and the capacity of love.” —The Riveter

Where Women are Kings does not coddle its readers, nor does it cling to the hysteria of melodrama. Watson’s controlled prose transforms Elijah into a boy as real and memory-soaked as a scar.” —The Toast

“Equally heartwarming and heartbreaking.” —The Jersey Journal

“Watson’s writing is magical and beguiling. Elijah, the protagonist of this novel, joins a distinguished list of fictional wunderkinder that stretches from Peter Pan to Oskar Matzerath of The Tin Drum to Azaro of The Famished Road. Watson is a fluent story teller.” —E. C. Osondu, winner of the Caine Prize

“In this very moving story, Watson confronts us with pain and loss. And yet, despite all of that, love ultimately wins.” —Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street

“Christie Watson reeled me into this wise and moving portrayal of one family’s struggle to love fiercely to the haunting end. Young Elijah stayed with me long after the last page.” —Shilpi Somaya Gowda, best-selling author of Secret Daughter

“Christie Watson writes with compassion, insight, and a delicate beauty about a difficult and often overlooked subject—the intersections of race, family, fostering and the unexpected power of love.” —Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Secret History of Las Vegas

“Christie Watson writes with incredible commitment and understanding of her subject. Where Women Are Kings is a great follow up to her first novel, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, and I hope it finds the readers it deserves.” —Helon Habila, author of Oil on Water

“A beautifully sad novel… Watson’s words are beautifully lyrical…Watson leaves us with an unforgettable story that will make your chest tighten, your eyes leak and your heart lurch.” —In Style 

“A sensitive portrayal of the complex realities of adoption and mental illness.” —Daily Telegraph

“Staggeringly authentic, staggeringly moving and profound…and at times hysterically funny. It’s a gem.” —Lesley Lokko, author of A Private Affair

“Watson’s second offering is deeply moving and disturbing, with a rich narrative that keeps the reader keen—yet fearful—of what happens next.” —Independent Press Association  

“One of those stories that goes straight to the heart.” —Litteratursiden

“Expertly handles delicate, culturally sensitive issues . . . Elijah’s voice shines through the pages, making him a character who is memorable long after the story ends.” —We Love This Book 

“A stunningly haunting novel… impossible to put down.” —Image 

“Kept us gripped throughout . . . stayed with us long after we’d finished the final page.” —Stylist  

“Uplifting, heartwarming.” —Pride Magazine

“Christie Watson has imagined a masterful and emotional roller coaster ride in Where Women are Kings. The story of Elijah, a child born to an emotionally and mentally distraught Nigerian woman, isn’t just his story, but a study in motherhood.  It is his mother Deborah’s story.  It is his adoptive mother Nikki’s story.  It is even, to a small extent, the story of Nikki’s quirky sister, Chanel, whose mothering techniques may give you pause.  Where Women Are Kings is a suspenseful, poignant vision of both the wickedness of man and the fierceness of a mother’s love.” —Lynn Riggs, Books and Company (Oconomowoc, WI)”

“Elijah has stuck with me long after the final page of this short novel. His crisis is the struggle so many of us have chosen to look away from; I find myself haunted by the depth of love and devastation that parents can cause. The author writes with clarity but not cliché, and she insists on a narration that shows many perspectives without judgement. I am thrilled this book will be a paperback original, as it will work well for book clubs and readers of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee.” —Nicole Magistro, The Bookworm (Edwards, CO)

Where Women are Kings skillfully navigates the treacherous waters of cultural divisions, interracial adoption, and mental illness. Elijah fiercely believes that his biological mother loves him, and that he is possessed by an evil wizard. His adopted family sensitively and lovingly attempts to heal Elijah from past abuse. The novel explores what happens when a mother’s love is corrupted by delusions, and how even a pure love cannot conquer all. This heart wrenching story will provide hours of thoughtful book club conversation. Fans of Helen Oyeyemi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have another favorite author to add to their list.” —Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books (Excelsior, MN)

“Upon finishing Where Women are Kings, I am convinced that Christie Watson has bewitched me. Seemingly out of nowhere I fell in love with her Elijah and as Watson slowly pulled back the layers of his suffering, of the suffering of his mother, of his traumas and his fears, it felt like a personal attack on my own emotions. No character in any other book has ever caused this kind of reaction in me. The infuriating part about all of this, about the loss of pride in being broken by a book, is the truth in that I would not have finished it if it hadn’t been worth it. Watson has written something beautiful here and it is this quality that makes all the suffering and heartbreak worth your time. You may be mad, you may feel hurt, but you won’t regret reading this.” —Chelsea Small, Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park, WA)

“A fantastic story that would be great for any book club! A young Nigerian boy is adopted by a biracial couple in London; even as they learn more about his complex history, Nikki and Obi are sure that they can create a loving family and safe environment for Elijah. Intense and thought provoking, these characters will stay with you long after you finish the book.” —Diane Grumhaus, Lake Forest Book Store (Lake Forest, IL)

1. Where are women kings? What role do Nigeria and Nigerian customs play in the novel? Which do you think determined the relationship between Elijah and Deborah more, their Nigerian heritage or her mental illness?

2. On page 208 Deborah notices that the police officer she’s speaking to “had a small cross around her neck,” which makes her believe she can trust her. Elijah refers to Nikki’s freckles as “angels’ kisses” (see p 116), as signs that she is being protected and cannot be hurt by the wizard. Elijah also believes that “to be safe, all he [has] to do [is] find a Nigerian who believed in God” (p 72). What is the importance of signs in how Elijah and Deborah navigate their world?  Do Nikki and Obi believe in signs? What do they use to navigate their world?

3. Emptiness is a recurring motif throughout the novel. (See pp 4–6, 79, 173, 211, 237.) What is the relationship between emptiness and immigration? Between emptiness and motherhood? When Elijah isn’t feeling empty, what is he filled up with?

4. Elijah and Deborah both express a certainty that they contain “badness” (“Elijah knew he was bad,” p 29; “I felt as if he could see into my bad heart…I felt badness all the way through me, Elijah, right to my core,” p 147). How does each react to the “badness” in them? What makes each of them feel this “badness”?

5. What different forms of belief are there in Where Women Are Kings? What role do they play in the novel?

6. Compare Deborah’s religious community with the social service community in which Elijah is placed. Does the novel seem to endorse one over the other?

7. Deborah and Elijah often feel isolated (“The most important thing is that you tell nobody,” p 158; “Elijah was alone with the wizard,” p 172). Is their isolation only personal, or is it systemic—something that exists in the environments they inhabit? Where does each find communion and community? What works against isolation in the novel?

8. Describe the conflict Elijah feels when he’s confronted by the idea that “the wizard” is a “myth” (p 220) and the reality of his birth mother’s love for him. Does the novel resolve this conflict? How?

9. Are there any similarities between Deborah’s and Nikki’s experiences of motherhood?

10. Describe your reaction to the ending of the novel. Were you surprised, saddened? Do you think it is a fitting ending?