STARRED REVIEW
January 2015

Iconic music, tumultuous times

By Ravi Howard
A moment can change everything. Nat Weary learns that in a hurry. One minute, he was a World War II veteran on bended knee, proposing to his sweetheart during a concert in their hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. The next, Weary spots several men armed with pipes heading toward the performer, his childhood friend Nat “King” Cole.
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A moment can change everything. Nat Weary learns that in a hurry. One minute, he was a World War II veteran on bended knee, proposing to his sweetheart during a concert in their hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. The next, Weary spots several men armed with pipes heading toward the performer, his childhood friend Nat “King” Cole.

Before his girl can utter a response, Weary leaps from the auditorium’s colored balcony and runs on stage to defend his friend. By cracking one of the men over the head with a microphone stand, Weary saves Nat’s life—and ensures he’ll spend the next 10 years of his own in prison.

In Driving the King, gifted novelist Ravi Howard uses glimpses of Weary’s post-prison life to give weight and hope to all he lost during a decade locked up. Weary finds a second chance and much-needed distance from Montgomery by becoming Cole’s driver and trusted friend in Los Angeles. Howard weaves historical events through this fictional retelling, using them as key plot points and context for Weary’s internal turmoil. The Montgomery bus boycott is central, and Howard also introduces readers to a young Martin Luther King Jr.

In reality, Cole never returned to perform in the South after being attacked during a 1956 performance in Birmingham and was resented by some black people for performing in front of segregated audiences (resentment that continued even after Cole revealed his financial support of the Montgomery bus boycott).

This novel follows in the thematic footsteps of Howard’s debut, Like Trees, Walking, which recounted a lynching in Mobile, Alabama. Through unfussy language and well-formed characters, Howard takes readers of all races, ages and classes into the world of pre-civil rights era black people, offering insight on and understanding of one of our country’s most tumultuous periods.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Driving the King

Driving the King

By Ravi Howard
Harper
ISBN 9780060529611

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