27 Nov / The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule [in Booklist]
A faux pastor with a costume-shop collar and his not-yet wife; a mermaid with a silver guitar; a pill-popping, weak-hearted FBI agent who withstands gruesome torture; Sidney Poitier signing autographs for Russian soldiers … fantastical as all that may sound, smooth-talking Dion Graham will make you believe.
Musician/director Blitz Bazawule makes his debut with a relatively short novel so dense that it’s been picked up for a six-episode FX miniseries. Melvin and Bernadette are on the run after Melvin kills a white man in 1960s Alabama with the racist’s own gun. They flee to Ghana, where Melvin is convinced the president – because he’s a college friend – can save their lives. They encounter musician Kwesi, who serendipitously is on his way to play for the president. A love triangle develops; tragedy proves inevitable.
On the page, Bazawule’s original might easily be dismissed as sprawling and messy, infused with clumsy magical realism, cluttered with too many distracting twists – and yet Graham somehow sifts through the melodrama for another master performance.