Elijah is a Nigerian boy who has experienced much trauma in his seven years. He longs for his mother, a Nigerian immigrant living in England whom he understands — at a very basic level — is ill, but has been bounced different foster homes; his sometimes extreme episodes have made him difficult to place.
With Nikki, a white woman, and Obi, a Nigerian, things might be different. The two have tried for years to carry a pregnancy to term and are now ready to adopt a child as their own. They instantly fall in love with Elijah, a quiet child with dozens of scars all over his body. To their delight, Elijah warms to them as well, forming a particular bond with in his new Nigerian grandfather.
No one knows the true extent of Elijah’s trauma. His past emerges in bits in pieces, sometimes through his own perspective and sometimes through letters from his mother, whom readers know was legally placed in psychiatric care and is now at a mental health facility. Her letters are not coming to Elijah because of their graphic nature, and Elijah has repressed a lot of the memories; he can’t cope whenever the subject is broached. All readers do know is that he believes a wicked wizard lives inside him, threatening to hurt everyone he loves. He tries to keep his mouth closed so that wizard will not escape and do harm.
It’s a sad book that sheds some light on the vulnerability of immigrants in a new country who have no personal support system and no real place to turn to. In Elijah’s case, his mother was struggling with a lot of serious things, not the least of which was probably postpartum depression. Be warned: the extent of (and the reasoning behind) Elijah’s abuse is not for the faint of heart.
I can see how, after Elijah’s past and his mother’s hardships are revealed, the book’s development and ending might be satisfying to some. Nikki and Obi — understandably, and not for lack of love or trying — make a few mistakes as they settle into new parenthood. Although one of those mistakes in particular makes for intense page-turning, overall, the plot just took a few too many steps in the direction of melodrama for my taste. (If you read other reviews, you’ll see I’m in the minority here).
Where Women Are Kings was released in April 2015 by Other Press.