The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore (Graywolf Press, 2020).
The pages of the immensely talented Wayétu Moore’s memoir The Dragons, the Giant, the Women are resonant with absence. “We are told that all of our dead and missing were resting peacefully in wandering clouds, and when it rains and you listen closely you can hear the things they forgot to tell you before leaving,” writes Moore in the opening of the book. “Mam was not dead, they said, but I stumbled into the rain and stood beside the rosebush where I was sure I had heard her voice, full of laughter and long ago, singing those forgotten things.”
Eight-year-old Wayétu Moore, the eldest of three daughters, is perhaps the most cognizant among all her siblings of the empty space left behind in her mother’s wake; moving meditations on this first long separation from her mother, abroad in the United States studying on Fulbright, form many of the first memorable moments of Moore’s memoir—until a violent coup by Charles Taylor’s army forces Moore and her family out of their home and into exile. Of that day, Moore recalls this:
“Mr. Moore Mr. Moore!” The woman was Mam’s friend, and she lived several houses past our neighbors. “They coming! The war now come! They coming!” she shouted. “The rebels, most of them at the bridge now. Go, Mr. Moore! You all hurry and go!”
Moore recalls hiding under the table with her sisters and grandmother while her father quickly grabbed a backpack and their shoes; then, creeping out the back door of their home, they race through the fields and woods, minutes ahead of gunfire, to find brief refuge first at their pastor’s home, and then, when that too is overrun by soldiers and gunfire, at the large university held by national forces further away. But after a night which saw the abduction of children by these same national forces, Moore and her family flee again. Writes Moore: “During the day we walked, and during the night Papa and Brother James found abandoned houses for us to sleep in.”
In The Dragons, the Giant, the Women, Moore tells us that safety is tenuous and danger is everywhere—even those purported to be a help are not safe and may pose harm. But within the continually escalating violent conflict, Moore’s father’s goal is simple: to get his family across the border to Sierra Leone and to safety. However, upon learning that the Sierra Leonean border is closed, Moore’s father decides to seek refuge in the small Liberian town of Lai, hidden from both armies; all the while, Wayétu is haunted by the absence of her mother. How will her mother find them? she wonders. How will her mother know where they are?
And then, impossibly, miraculously, after months of hiding out in terror, a rebel soldier comes to find Moore and her family. Her name is Satta. She tells them that Moore’s mother has sent her to find them. “‘Your wife,’ the rebel said and watched Papa’s face change,” writes Moore. “‘Your wife come for you.’”