Driving the King by

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Mr. Howard’s appealing novel uses Mr. Cole more as a device than as a person, and keeps him remote much of the time. This is primarily Nat Weary’s story and a look at the dynamic stirrings of the civil rights movement in the mid-1950s...
-NY Times

Synopsis

A daring and brilliant novel that explores race and class in 1950s America, witnessed through the experiences of Nat King Cole and his driver, Nat Weary.

The war is over, the soldiers are returning, and Nat King Cole is back in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for a rare performance. His childhood friend, Nat Weary, plans to propose to his sweetheart, and the singer will honor their moment with a special song. While the world has changed, segregated Jim Crow Montgomery remains the same. When a white man attacks Cole with a pipe, Weary leaps from the audience to defend him—an act that will lead to a ten-year prison sentence.

But the singer will not forget his friend and the sacrifice he made. Six months before Weary is released, he receives a remarkable offer: will he be Nat King Cole’s driver and bodyguard in L.A.? It is the promise of a new life removed from the terror, violence, and degradation of Jim Crow Alabama.

Weary discovers that, while Los Angeles is far different from the Deep South, it a place of discrimination, mistrust, and intolerance where a black man—even one as talented and popular as Nat King Cole—is not wholly welcome.

An indelible portrait of prejudice and promise, friendship and loyalty, Driving the King is a daring look at race and class in pre-Civil Rights America, played out in the lives of two remarkable men.

 

About the Author

Ravi Howard received the 2001 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award for College Writers for his short story "Like Trees, Walking." After graduating from Howard University, he received his MFA from the University of Virginia. His writing also appeared in The Massachusetts Review and Callaloo. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Howard now lives in Mobile.
 
Published January 6, 2015 by Harper. 341 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, History. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Driving the King
All: 4 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 2

Kirkus

Above average
on Dec 22 2014

Maybe Nat King Cole will always be something of a hallowed enigma among the great American musical icons. But one would think even a delicately woven novel that dares to reconfigure historical events might have taken more risks with its characterizations.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Dec 28 2014

Mr. Howard’s appealing novel uses Mr. Cole more as a device than as a person, and keeps him remote much of the time. This is primarily Nat Weary’s story and a look at the dynamic stirrings of the civil rights movement in the mid-1950s...

Read Full Review of Driving the King | See more reviews from NY Times

Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Jonathan Odell on Jan 03 2015

Through Cole, Howard gives us an intimate look at the racism faced by a black entertainer of unquestionable talent as he strives to make it in a world reserved for whites only.

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by Marc Weingarten on Jan 16 2015

Cole's presence in "Driving the King" is ultimately an exercise in frustration. Nat Weary is a man out of time, thrust headlong into a burgeoning movement. Cole is a man out of the story's frame, out of reach and thus too inchoate to earn our compassion.

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Reader Rating for Driving the King
75%

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