Cover image for Driving the king : a novel
Driving the king : a novel
Howard, Ravi, author.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2015]
Physical Description:
325 pages ; 22 cm
"Told through the experiences of Nat King Cole's driver, Nat Weary, [this novel] ... explores race and class in 1950s America"--
Format :


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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
FICTION Adult Fiction Urban Fiction
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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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.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Focusing on the lives of Nat King Cole and his driver, Nat Weary, Howard offers a fictionalized account of a concert in Montgomery, Alabama, that ended abruptly when a white man attacked Cole during the show. Weary, newly returned from military service during WWII and about to propose to his childhood sweetheart, interceded and saved Cole's life. Previously convicted of assault, he had served 10 long years and given up on the woman he loved and on much of life. Then Cole offers him a job. Weary joins Cole's staff in L.A. as driver and bodyguard as the singer makes his television debut. L.A. in the 1950s has its own brand of racism as Cole struggles to build a TV show with no sponsors. As Cole and Weary decide to return to Montgomery to complete their unfinished business, the two towns and their racial struggles are on full display through the limitations placed on Cole's career and the beginnings of the Montgomery bus boycott. Alternating between the cities and Weary's past and present, Howard explores race relations in the pre-civil rights era and the strong ties forged between two extraordinary men.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Howard (Like Trees, Walking) brings readers back in time to postwar Alabama, in this velvety smooth fictional memoir. The story starts on the day of a long-awaited concert in Montgomery in 1956, featuring native son Nat King Cole. The narrative returns to this day repeatedly, but the events of the novel begin a decade before. Nathaniel Weary is just back from the European front and is looking forward to a concert by Cole, his now-famous childhood friend. During Cole's first song, though, he is attacked by a white man, and Weary literally leaps from the balcony to the singer's defense. Cole is saved but Weary is sentenced to 10 years in prison for "inciting a riot." Howard moves back and forth in time, describing Weary's days at war, his recollections of his family, his time in prison, and, eventually, his years in L.A. as Cole's driver and bodyguard. This story about a strong man, living with his head held high, is set against the backdrop of Jim Crow and the Montgomery bus boycott. Howard's prose goes down like the top-shelf whiskey that Weary favors, making for a heady reading experience. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. This low-key yet powerful novel set in Howard's (Like Trees, Walking) hometown of Montgomery, AL, in the 1950s takes as its springing-off point a real-life incident of an assault on singer Nat King Cole by white men during a concert in Alabama. In this fictionalized account, the paths of the singer and a returning soldier-childhood friends from Montgomery, both named Nat, both African American-had diverged widely, and then came together in a life-changing moment that sent Nat Weary to prison for a decade. Six years after his release, bringing the singer back to perform in Montgomery once more, Nat Weary relates his story in the form of shifting memories, jumping back and forth between past and present, blending a lyrical medley of experiences from childhood, first love, wartime, imprisonment, and postrelease employment as the driver/bodyguard in Los Angeles for Nat King Cole. VERDICT Drawing on historical events from the nascent civil rights movement, including the Montgomery bus boycott, this novel is a personal, poignant portrayal of how the lives of African Americans could be so easily derailed by racial inequality under the law. [See Prepub Alert, 7/17/14; library marketing.]-Laurie Cavanaugh, Holmes P.L., Halifax, MA (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.