FICTION

The Minister Primarily

Amistad: HarperCollins. Jul. 2021. 496p. ISBN 9780063079595. $27.99. F
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This posthumously published novel by Killens (1916–87), a founder of the Black Arts Movement, is a major addition to his oeuvre. Set in the 1980s, it centers on James Jay Leander Johnson, a Black folk singer from Mississippi who journeys to Africa to find himself. He mistakenly deplanes in the fictitious People’s Democratic Republic of Guanaya, a newly independent backwater suddenly being wooed by the Cold War powers after vast deposits of cobanium, a valuable radioactive mineral, are discovered. The country is facing a dilemma; word of an assassination plot against the prime minister reaches the government just as he is to visit the United States. While performing at a local club, Johnson is discovered by a government minister who believes him to be a look-alike for the prime minister, and after being given a crash course on Guanaya by the beautiful culture minister Marie Efwa, he is sent to the United States to masquerade as the prime minister.
VERDICT Killens casts a broad net, skewering everything from the heady early days of African independence to the pan-Africanism of the period among Black Americans, and, most sharply, race relations in the United States. This is a brilliantly scathing, outrageous satire as important today as when it was written.
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