Booktails from the Potions Library, with Mixologist Lindsay Merbaum
Taste the magic of Wayetu Moore’s “She Would Be King” with this sensual, aromatic cocktail
In Wayétu Moore’s novel She Would Be King, a mysterious power draws three extraordinary people together, as “Alike spirits separated at great distances will always be bound to meet, even if only once; kindred souls will always collide; and strings of coincidences are never what they appear to be on the surface, but instead are the mask of God.” June is bullet-proof, with superhuman strength; Norman may, under the right circumstances, disappear into thin air. Lastly, a strikingly beautiful, cursed “witch” named Gbessa (pronounced “Bessa”) cannot die because she possesses the power of life. Traveling alongside a ghost, who periodically summons or urges on the protagonists, the story journeys to Virginia, Jamaica, and finally the colony of Monrovia, culminating in the foundation of the nation of Liberia. But what is freedom, the novel asks, in a world built by colonization and enslavement, maintained through institutionalized racism and patriarchal control?
She Would Be King is an odyssey of friendship, love, and suffering, set against the backdrop of a country’s painful birth. Exploring the overlap of racism, sexism, and classism, the novel weaves magic with its language, juxtaposing the poetic and spiritual perspective of the integral, omnipresent supernatural against colonized Christian “reality.”
This recipe is easy to execute, though it requires a little patience and forethought. In honor of fufu, sweet potato-infused vodka serves as the base. Fufu is a ubiquitous, varied, and starchy staple that accompanies soups and stews in West Africa and beyond, a comfort food shared with June and Norman at a pivotal moment. The mild, aromatic vodka is combined with sour tamarind and smooth coconut water, a reference to June and Norman’s meeting in the jungle, where they eat fresh tamarinds, catch fish, and collect coconuts to drink, or to use as cups. Likewise, Norman falls for a captivating and ill-fated villager who smells deliciously like fresh coconut and mint. Coconut also honors the Maroon women and their nets made from coconut leaves. Mango syrup is included for the mangoes enjoyed by the wealthy families in Gbessa’s village. In a time of danger and uncertainty, Gbessa’s mother nourishes her with cooked fish, rice, and ripe mangoes.
This booktail is presented against a split backdrop: reflective blue and sparkling gold, which complement the book’s abstract and dynamic cover. On the left, a blue mirage mimics an ocean horizon, the overall effect conjuring a beach on a distant shore, complete with craggy rock cliffs. In contrast, the flat yet textured gold on the right evokes riches, royalty, and magic. The cocktail appears in front of the book, atop a mirrored base. It’s served in a tall, icy glass, garnished with fresh mint and a blue patterned paper straw. Scattered about are pops of yellow and orange–marigolds for Norman’s mother and the “untamed yellows” present throughout the novel.
She Would Be King
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 2 oz sweet potato-infused vodka
- 1 oz coconut water
- 1.5 oz mango syrup
- 2 tsp tamarind paste
- Mint garnish
Wash, peel, and cut the sweet potatoes into large chunks. Place in a large jar and fill with vodka, until the potatoes are submerged. Seal and shake, then set in a cool, dry place for 4-5 weeks. Shake the jar once a day. The vodka will turn a light golden color. Once the liquor is ready, add all liquid ingredients to a shaker, along with a large ice cube. Agitate vigorously for about 20 seconds, then strain into a tall glass filled halfway with crushed ice. Garnish with fresh mint.