The Scent of Burnt Flowers
- Author: Blitz Bazawule
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Publication Date: June 28, 2022
- Publisher: Ballantine Books
Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: blood, violence, racial slurs, racism, murder, bombing, suicide attempt, torture
Fleeing persecution in 1960s America, a Black couple seeks asylum in Ghana, but fresh dangers and old secrets threaten their newfound freedom in this hypnotic debut novel.
When the windshield of his Chevy Impala shatters in a dark diner parking lot in Alabama, Melvin moves without thinking. A split-second reaction marrows in his bones from the days of war, but this time it is the safety of his fianc, Bernadette, at stake. Impulse keeps them alive, and yet they flee with blood on their hands. What is life like now that they are fugitives? Pack passports. Empty bank accounts. Set their old life on fire. The couple disguise themselves as a pastor and a reluctant pastor’s wife who’s hiding a secret from her fianc. With a persistent FBI agent on their trail, they travel to Ghana to seek the help of Melvin’s old college friend who happens to be the country’s embattled president, Kwame Nkrumah.
The couple’s chance encounter with Ghana’s most beloved highlife musician, Kwesi Kwayson, who’s on his way to perform for the president, sparks a journey full of suspense, lust, magic, and danger as Nkrumah’s regime crumbles around them. What was meant to be a fresh start quickly spirals into chaos, threatening both their relationship and their lives. Kwesi and Bernadette’s undeniable attraction and otherworldly bond cascades during their three-day trek, and so does Melvin’s intense jealousy. All three must confront one another and their secrets, setting off a series of cataclysmic events.
Steeped in the history and mythology of postcolonial West Africa at the intersection of the civil rights movement in America, this gripping and ambitious debut merges political intrigue, magical encounters, and forbidden romance in an epic collision of morality and power.
It’s so hard for me to write this review, mainly because I’m still trying to wrap my head around what I’ve just read. This was a really fast read that packed so much story into a relatively short book. In addition, it’s kind of a mash-up of genres, featuring historical fiction and magical realism, with some elements of romance and mystery. But I’m still going to try to process this book through this review.
In the aftermath of a shocking event in 1960s Alabama, Melvin and Bernadette are fugitives and flee to Ghana, seeking refuge. But they quickly realize that they are in for a wild ride that they never expected. Readers get a birds eye view into both 1960s life in America and politically unstable Ghana, as well as the tenuous relationship between Melvin and Bernadette.
I found myself wishing to get to know Melvin and Bernadette better—we are told about significant events in their life and their motivations, but we aren’t really shown enough for my liking. Often, I found myself wanting to know more about them. Instead, it was more of their travels, with lots of flashbacks to significant events that shaped the story. In addition, we hear about the lives of other characters that are central to the story as well. But it never felt quite deep enough for me.
One of the things that I did like best about the story was learning about historical events, which were woven through the narrative. African history and politics, especially colonialism and post-colonial influences, aren’t really taught in American schools, and it’s an area that I actually found fascinating. This information was combined with elements of magical realism, which I’m not normally a fan of, although it was done beautifully in this story. While I’m more used to a linear narrative, that wasn’t present in this story, but I found that I got used to it quickly, and began to appreciate it more and more as I got deeper into the story.
However, for me, the ending fell a bit flat. I felt like very little was wrapped up, and I prefer stories with a more clear ending. Instead of understanding what had happened to any of the major characters, none of their outcomes was clarified, and the ending is left entirely up to the reader, hence my ambivalent rating. There were definitely some things that I enjoyed about this book, and some that I didn’t love, but overall it was an interesting read and I enjoyed it for the most part.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 5
Categories: Book Review